MANILA - The Philippine government may not be able to provide pandemic aid to the poor if it imposes hard lockdown anew amid the presence of the virulent COVID-19 Delta variant, a think tank said Friday.
Zy-Za Suzara, executive director of Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD), said the Duterte administration crafted the 2021 budget in a "business-as-usual" scenario focusing on infrastructure projects despite the still raging pandemic.
"We don't really have money for it. Unfortunately, the economic managers didn't allocate sufficient funding for ayuda when they were preparing the budget last year," she told ANC's "Rundown".
The presence of the more contagious Delta variant, responsible for the latest waves of outbreaks in parts of the world, has prompted mayors in Metro Manila to recommend again strict anti-virus restrictions.
Hoping to avert further transmission of the Delta variant, the local chief executives were willing to place the capital region under enhanced community quarantine for 2 weeks, provided the national government will give financial assistance to the poor.
In the 2021 budget, Suzara said the Duterte administration prioritized the Office of the President and its attached agencies, public works, the police and military.
Meanwhile, budget for social services, health and education have remained at same level before the pandemic, she added.
"We're really lagging behind in terms of giving ayuda to our citizens and that's really unfortunate because there's a consensus among economists in the world that fiscal response is the key to managing the pandemic and the key towards economic recovery," Suzara said.
In 2021, increase in armed forces and police budgets amounted to P120.7 billion and P169.7 billion, respectively.
Amid the country's worst crisis since World War II, the Philippine government has spent "too conservatively" in responding to COVID-19, the think tank said.
"Compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors, we're actually scrimping on aid... In Malaysia and Indonesia, they've done 5 or 6 rounds of ayuda," Suzara said.