MANILA - The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) on Monday said the government should "focus" on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic before it allocates public funds for the creation of new departments.
Some lawmakers have been pushing to establish at least half a dozen new departments, but Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua gave his stand after Senate Committee on Labor chair Joel Villanueva prodded economic managers to say whether the proposals would get the support of the executive department.
"The NEDA Secretary is of the view that right as of this moment and in the near future, we should focus on COVID response," Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara, who is defending the general principles of the 2021 budget, said in plenary.
"Perhaps, when we get out of these dire straits, we can again focus on the creation of that department and all the details that would entail," Angara told the chamber.
Chua was physically present in the Senate gallery and relayed his message through Angara as only senators are allowed to deliver manifestations during plenary deliberations.
The answers of Cabinet members and other officials during budget deliberations in plenary must be coursed through a Finance Committee official tasked to defend their respective agency's budget.
Among the departments that some lawmakers are pushing to create are as follows:
- Department of Overseas Filipino Workers
- Department of Culture
- Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
- Department of Sports
- Department of Water
- Department of Disaster Resilience
"We are getting mixed signals. I hope we can get a clearer position from economic managers," Villanueva said, noting that President Rodrigo Duterte ended up vetoing the Security of Tenure bill after Congress worked to have it passed.
"We wanted to find out if its urgent, if it is a yes or a no... I cannot accept the fact that they will tell us in principle they will support us but not really," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that he wants the chamber to first pass his proposed Senate Bill No. 244, which will "rightsize" the bureaucracy before creating new departments.
Government office are "bloated" and we need to "rightsize it first" to save billions of taxpayers' money, Sotto said in a press conference last week.
Other senators have proposed to merge existing departments like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform to make the bureaucracy more efficient.