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MANILA— Senators on Wednesday discussed the possibility of merging the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) with the Department of Agriculture (DA) as part of a push to "rightsize" the bureaucracy to save more funds amid the pandemic.
"More than 60 percent of programmed appropriations" is allotted for the salaries of government personnel, said Senate Committee on Finance chair Sen. Sonny Angara during the chamber's budget debates in plenary.
"Certain functions by the DAR can be performed by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.
"The government has become the largest employment agency... But given the very dire predictions on our revenues and our ability to support [the] health sector, we should not keep ourselves deeper in the hole before we rationalize our bureaucracies," he said.
The DAR was created 40 years ago with the mandate of distributing land to agrarian reform beneficiaries, said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who was Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agriculture Modernization under the Aquino administration.
The DA should "absorb the DAR precisely because their mandate should have been completed," he said.
"DA's extension services is very weak... The right approach would be to merge the DA and DAR and strengthen the extension services," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III backed Drilon's call to consider merging several departments, saying he has filed a bill that would "rightsize" the number of workers in government.
"Rightsizing doesn't necessarily mean you remove departments, but you will just put it in the proper size to be enough for public service delivery," Sotto said.
Under Sotto's Senate Bill No. 244, government personnel would also be allowed to apply for early retirement.
"I have been pushing for this since 2 presidents ago. Wala pang Presidenteng nakinig sa'kin sa sinasabi kong early retirement program at rightsizing (no president has listened to me on having an early retirement program and rightsizing)," he said.
"A study shows about 40 percent will avail of early retirement. Can you imagine the amount of money you can save?" he said.
The rightsizing of the bureaucracy should be discussed before Congress considers the creation of new departments and agencies, the Senate President said.
"Pagka na-i-rightsize natin at nagkaroon tayo ng early retirement program, then okay lang na magkaroon ka ng Department of National Disaster... Marami ka nang puwedeng gawin," Sotto told reporters in an online press conference.
(When we rightsize the government and when we already have an early retirement program, then it's okay to have the Department of National Disaster... and many other things that they want to be done.)
"Pero habang bloated tayo, magdadagdag ka lang ng pam-bloat," he said.
(But while we are bloated, creating new departments will just add to that.)
Sotto said he would urge Civil Service, Government Reorganization and Professional Regulation Committee chair Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. to take up the bill as soon as possible.