Deputy Speaker Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza blamed the previous Cayetano Speakership for the measly initial appropriation for COVID-19 vaccine procurement under the 2021 national budget.
Atienza touched on this matter in a statement Friday in response to a criticism from Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano against current Speaker Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco.
Cayetano and his allies have earlier faulted the Velasco leadership for not actively holding public hearing or investivations on topics of public interest, such as the vaccination and PhilHealth issues.
“There were no investigations yet because we prioritized cleaning up the mess that was left in the GAB (General Appropriations Bill) and reopened the budget hearings that Cayetano and his allies unceremoniously closed, which was why we uncovered the weakest link of the GAB – the pathetic P2.5-billion budget for COVID vaccines,” Atienza said.
The GAB represents the initial filing of the proposed national budget in Congress, specifically in the 300-member House of Representatives.
Atienza in the statement recalled that last Oct. 6, then-Speaker Cayetano moved to terminate plenary deliberations on the P4.5-trillion GAB before approving the measure on second reading and suspending sessions until Nov. 16, 2020.
But last Oct. 12, an overwhelming majority of House lawmakers ousted Cayetano and elected Velasco as Speaker. This took place a day before the start of the four-day special session called by President Duterte for Congress to pass the GAB. The House approved the budget bill on third and final reading on Oct. 16.
Atienza said that after discovering the rather low amount of P2.5 billion that the Cayetano leadership had allocated for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, the Velasco-led House increased the vaccine budget to P8 billion, and later to P72.5 billion, under the budget bill.
The Chief Executive signed the 2021 GAB into law last Dec. 28. The first to be crafted in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s national budget is seen as crucial in government’s delivery of both health and economic response.