Infra budget, funds of underspending agencies may be realigned for COVID-19 vaccines - lawmaker

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 16 2020 05:13 PM

This handout picture taken on August 6, 2020 and provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund shows the potential vaccine against the coronavirus disease, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. Russian Direct Investment Fund, Handout/AFP

MANILA - Infrastructure budget of some districts or allocation of underspending agencies may be realigned to fund COVID-19 vaccines for 20 million Filipinos next year, a lawmaker said Friday.

The P2.5 billion currently earmarked for the vaccines would not be enough for the 20 million poor Filipinos that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted to be inoculated for free, Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo said.

The small committee tasked to review amendments to the 2021 spending plan will have to look for the additional P10 billion, she said.

Quimbo said realigning the controversial infrastructure budgets for Taguig City and Camarines Sur for COVID-19 vaccine was also "a possibility."

"Speaker Lord Velasco made it clear that he is very concerned with inequity, and so the task of the small committee is to determine kung saan ba mayroon na mga inequitable distributions and of course, to intervene and smoothen that," she told ANC's Headstart.

Ousted Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano represents the Taguig-Pateros district, while former Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte is from the second district of Camarines Sur.

The small committee will also have to find ways to fund proposals such as salary increase for nurses and additional unconditional cash for the indigents affected by the pandemic. Quimbo said she also wants a bigger budget for the Department of Health, specifically for its mental health programs.

Quimbo, an economics professor, also suggested looking into the budget of underspending agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, which had an unspent budget of P80 billion from 2019 and 2020.

"If you can actually reduce allocations to those agencies that historically, seem unable to absorb huge amounts of funds, baka iyan ang puwedeng ma-reduce-an," she said.

The House of Representatives is having first crack at the P4.5-trillion 2021 spending plan, which includes funds for the coronavirus pandemic response. It is expected to pass the General Appropriations Bill by Friday.

Should the vaccine be ready by year-end, the government has set aside funds to buy enough for 20 million poorest Filipinos, claimed Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.

The Philippine International Trading Corp will buy the vaccine, which will be financed by the LandBank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, he said.

President Duterte said his administration would prioritize coronavirus vaccines made by China and Russia, if they are proven safe and effective, as he accused Western pharmaceutical companies of "profiting" amid the pandemic.