Senator Sonny Angara on Wednesday, Sept. 15 urged state economic managers to provide more flexibility in the proposed P5.024-trillion budget, saying the utilization of next year’s fund resources should be able to keep pace with developments on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the emergence of Delta and the other COVID variants, the requirements of our frontline agencies are constantly moving,” said Angara, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
“The situation is changing rapidly and so must our processes pertaining to the submission of the national budget,” Angara stressed.
During the Development Budget Coordinating Committee briefing for the Senate, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) noted that there were no provisions for the vaccination of minors, the provision of special risk allowance (SRA) for health workers, and other items related to the government’s response to the COVID-19 variants, including the highly-infectious Delta variant.
Even DBM Officer-in-Charge Tina Canda admitted during the DBCC briefing that adjustments “must be done” especially with the proposed budget of the Department of Health (DOH).
In the case of the SRA, Angara noted that the DBM did not include funding for this benefit for health workers because of the expiration of Republic Act 11519 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 where this was introduced.
“The agencies are required to submit their budget proposals early on so that the DBM will be able to prepare the voluminous document and have it ready for submission to Congress by the third week of August,” the senator said.
“Given this situation, it is understandable that a lot of key expenditures are not captured in the budget document,” he pointed out.
Angara said agencies should be allowed to submit revisions to their proposed budgets to reflect new developments brought about by the pandemic.
“The spread of COVID has been rapid and our budget must be able to keep up with it,” Angara said.
Earlier, Angara and Senator Richard Gordon filed Senate Bill No. 2371 to remove any confusion regarding the continued grant of the SRA and other benefits under Bayanihan 2. Angara said his committee will soon conduct a hearing on the bill.
The SRA is among the various benefits for healthcare workers that would continue even after the Bayanihan 2 law’s expiration for as long as the President’s declaration of a state of public health emergency is in place.
Senators have also asked the DBM to make sure there is sufficient budget for testing and contact tracing in next year’s budget, saying this should be funded as integral components of the government’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Members of the Upper Chamber also called for more available budget for cash aids or “ayuda” particularly in areas that are subjected to lockdowns due to fluctuations in the number of active COVID-19 cases.
Angara also said it is imperative to continue providing low-interest loans to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that is provided under the Bayanihan 2 since they continue to bear the brunt of the government’s extended community quarantines.