MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday said the 2022 national budget should provide the country "much-needed impetus for economic recovery" as next year's elections loom.
"Ito po ay budget ng taumbayan, budget ng ating bansa, hindi budget ng mga kandidato. The 2022 national budget is the key to our recovery. Walang sektor ang dapat maiwan,” Drilon said after formally opening Day 1 of the Senate’s deliberation of the proposed 2022 General Appropriations Bill.
Drilon said he based his pronouncements on the recent Bloomberg survey result which placed the Philippines among the list of countries with the weakest anti-pandemic campaign.
He noted more than 4 million Filipinos are also currently unemployed even as the country experiences rising prices of basic goods, a slumped economy and rise in bankrupt small businesses.
“think it is difficult to dispute that our country’s recovery is still in limbo. Whatever we have accomplished thus far can be reversed when COVID-19 cases rise again or a more contagious virus enters the country,” he said.
Senate finance committee chairman Sen. Sonny Angara said the 2022 national budget will be thick with government assistance to pandemic-affected sectors like public utility drivers, unemployed Filipinos, farmers, health workers, indigents, and even hospitals and schools.
“We're talking to maybe around P100 billion to P150 billion,” he said.
Angara stressed there will be no “no vaccine, no ayuda” policy implementation.
Senators meanwhile questioned the absence of government’s plan to fully revert to back face-to-face classes, which are already being conducted abroad.
President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed up to 100 public schools and 20 private schools to join the pilot run, the first in a three-phased plan to gradually reopen schools and resume in-person classes. It will cover students in Kindergarten, Grades 1 to 3, and Senior High School.
“We know very well continued closures of schools has adverse effects to the economy. On the other hand, we are conscious of health needs. What is the plan for soft reopening of schools? It does not only affect our budget next year but our next generation of Filipinos,” Drilon said.
Since March 2020, schools have held online classes due to the pandemic.
“Children are already deprived of two years ... and our support on the needs of our students on virtual is very pathetic. These are the problems that we should confront,” Drilon said.
Sen. Pia Cayetano said the Department of Education and the "whole government should move forward" with the return of face-to-face classes in the country.
COVID-19 RESPONSE BUDGET
Angara said P61 billion from the 2022 spending plan will be allotted for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines as the country aims to vaccinate all of its citizens.
He earlier said the proposed 2022 national spending will be a “COVID-Recovery Budget.”
The Department of Health’s 2021 budget of P101 billion will be doubled next year, to the tune of P226.7 billion, or a total of P312 billion if the proposed funds for hospitals, medical scholarships, contact tracing and booster vaccines are considered.
Senator Panfilo Lacson meanwhile raised the attention on the DOH’s reported failure to distribute its P95 million worth of medicines and other supplies which are now about to expire.
“If we are wasting money for procurement of nearly expired or expiring drugs then what’s the sense of spending a lot more money,” Lacson noted.
Cayetano, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said "there are now agreements with manufacturers" wherein expiring drugs will be returned for fresher ones.
"(For) nearly expiring drugs, they fast-track the delivery to hospitals,” she said.
Lacson recommended allowing local governments to buy medicines for patients.
Several senators meanwhile applauded Angara’s recommendation to slash the P28 billion fund of the National Task Force to End Local Communists Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), after the agency failed to submit its report on how it spent at least P16 million supposedly to help local villages this year.
The legislators also agreed with Angara on his stand to limit the delivery of Procurement Service - Department of Budget and Management of other government agencies’ orders.
The same restriction they said, should also be applied to the Philippine International Trading Corporation.