Robredo to focus budget on COVID if tapped to lead pandemic response

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 06 2021 09:42 AM | Updated as of Sep 06 2021 05:19 PM

Vice President Leni Robredo speaks during a press conference on February 16, 2021 in light of the decision of the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), to dismiss the entire electoral protest filed by defeated candidate Bongbong Marcos. Jay Ganzon, OVP
Vice President Leni Robredo speaks during a press conference on February 16, 2021 in light of the decision of the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), to dismiss the entire electoral protest filed by defeated candidate Bongbong Marcos. Jay Ganzon, OVP

MANILA (UPDATE) - Vice President Leni Robredo said Monday she would allot budget to COVID-19 response, including health workers' benefits, if she was given blanket authority to help government in battling the pandemic.

Robredo earlier said she was willing to volunteer to lead agencies' pandemic response.

"It’s not the lack of effort ng mga ahensiya na gumagawa. Talagang nakikita ko naman, we have partnered with some of them...nakikita ko ang effort," she told ANC's Headstart.

(It’s not the lack of effort of agencies, we have partnered with some of them...I can see their effort.)

"Dahil 'di ako privy sa nangyayari sa taas, 'di ko alam sa'n talaga ang problema. Kasi ang nakikita natin ngayon, merong pera, merong pangangailangan. Pero bakit 'di nagagastos ang pera sa pangangailangan."

(Because I'm not privy to what happens up there, I don't know where the problem is. Because as we can see now, there's money, we have a lot of needs. But why is the money not being spent on our needs?)

The Vice President said she has stopped watching President Rodrigo Duterte's weekly report to the public as she feels it does not focus on the pandemic.

"'Pag pinapakinggan ko and binabasa ko ang transcript (ng press conferences), may sense ako na hindi niya alam lahat ng detalye. Ang tingin ko lang, kulang sa pagtutok sa detalye," she said.

(When I listen and read the transcript, I get a sense that he doesn't know all of the details. I think he lacks effort to focus on details.)

"The last 2 press conferences were really quite frustrating for us... Nasa middle tayo ng surge na kailangan all hands on deck, tapos ang greater part of the press conference is pinupuna ang mga senador, 'yung COA (Commission on Audit)."

(We're in the middle of a surge where all hands on deck are needed. But the greater part of the press conference is criticizing senators and COA.)

Robredo said the administration should have focused the 2022 budget allocation to COVID response.

"We have seen yung mga COA reports. Ang una kong gagawin, titingnan ko how much money do we have now. Ano ba ang available na pera? Itatabi natin 'yun sa pinakakailangan. Halimbawa, ang isa sa pinakakailangan ngayon, ang pag-asikaso sa healthcare workers natin," she said when asked what she would do if she was asked to lead the pandemic response.

(We have seen COA reports. First thing I would do is look at how much money we have now. What funds are available, and we will allot it to what's most needed. For example, taking care of our health workers.)

2022 BUDGET

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The Vice President cited as an example the slashing of the Department of Health's proposed budget for COVID-19 response to P19.6 billion from P73.9 billion, which would result in the lack of funds for health workers' benefits.

"'Yng mga dapat nagi-implement ng COVID response programs, yun pa ang binawasan. Tapos yung di pa ganun ka-urgent at this time. Ang dami naghihirap, ang daming nawalan ng trabaho, bakit hindi 'yun ang asikasuhin natin?"

Robredo said she heard during a House committee hearing that Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the budget department was "banking on the Bayanihan 3 to fund medical frontliners' allowances."

"Bayanihan 3 is still a bill. Pangalawa, wala naman itemized appropriation for the benefit of health workers. Meaning to say, magkakaroon lang ng pera pag may tira. Dun pinapakita ang priorities," she said.

(Bayanihan 3 is still a bill. Secondly, there are no itemized appropriation for the benefit of health workers, meaning to say it will only have funds if there's excess. That shows their priorities.)

"Again, pandemic ngayon. Kung hindi kaya ng DOH (maging absorptive)...dapat maghanap ng paraan. Maghanap ng ibang ahensiyang magi-implement pero hindi pwedeng hindi bigyan ng pera."

(Again, we're in a pandemic. If DOH can't implement their budget...government should find a way. Look for another agency to implement but we cannot deny them money.)

Robredo, who earned her economics degree from the University of the Philippines before becoming a lawyer, pointed out that "a large percentage" of the Department of Public Works and Highways budget was for locally-funded programs. The agency got the highest allocation among agencies in next year's proposed budget at P686.1 billion.

"Yung interpretation ng mga naga-analyze na election-related ito. Para sa'kin, pandemic nga ngayon. Kung ito ang binibigyan natin ng halaga, hindi tayo makakaalis sa ganitong sitwayson. Sa'kin, sana maramdaman natin ang sense of urgency," she said.

(Those who analyze this interpret that this is election related. For me, we're in a pandemic. If we focused on these things, we won't get out of this situation. I hope we can feel a sense of urgency.)

The country will hold national and local elections in May next year.

The increase in anti-insurgency funds would also have been alright if the country was in an "ordinary time," added Robredo.

Other agencies should allot their excess to COVID-19 response budget, she said.

"Hindi ito ordinary times. Sa'kin lang, bakit wala akong nakikitang sense na ganoon...Dapat pinapakiusapan ang mga department, alin muna sa budget niyo ang puwede natin ma-convert ngayon?" she said.

(These are not ordinary times, I don't see any sense of that from them. They should ask departments what part of their budget can be converted for COVID response.)

"Kung nagagawa namin na yung kakarampot namin na budget na nai-stretch namin and nako-convert namin na maging COVID budget, imposible naman na 'yung iba hindi 'yan kayang gawin."

(If we can stretch our small budget and convert them to COVID funds, it's impossible others can't do the same.)

PALACE LINKS VP REMARKS TO POLLS

Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque said the public should consider Robredo's remarks "in connection with her ongoing advertisement." 

"Intindihin n’yo na lang po, lahat ng manggagaling sa bibig ni VP Leni, isabay n’yo po ‘yan sa jingle niya na ipinatutugtog. Alam n’yo na kung bakit niya sinasabi niya ‘yan, it’s election 2022," he said in a press briefing. 

(Just understand that everything that comes from the mouth of VP Leni, it's together with the jingle she is playing. You know why she says that, it's the 2022 elections.)

Robredo has yet to bare her political plans ahead of the October filing of candidacies before next year's polls, despite being encouraged by some sectors to run for President.

President Rodrigo Duterte, on the other hand, has accepted his endorsement as a candidate for vice president.