Amid pandemic, education, infra allocations edge out health funding in 2021 budget

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 09 2020 02:39 PM | Updated as of Dec 09 2020 03:09 PM

Amid pandemic, education, infra allocations edge out health funding in 2021 budget 1
Devotees attend First Friday mass at the Quiapo Church in Manila on December 04, 2020 following physical distancing protocols. The mass marks the start of devotional activities leading to the annual Traslacion, which is celebrated in January. The grand procession, which draws millions of Black Nazarene devotees, has been canceled for 2021 because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The sectors of education and infrastructure got the biggest allocations in the 2021 budget that is expected to be ratified by Congress Wednesday, edging out the health sector while the country continues the battle against COVID-19. 

Senate Finance Committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara said the sector of education, which got P708.18 billion, remains the top recipient of government funds because it is required in the Constitution. 

Angara said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), on the other hand, got the second biggest slice of government funds with P694.82 billion because many infrastructure projects “were not fully funded” in the 2020 budget. 

“Education is always highest under the constitution, infrastructure (DPWH) because a lot of the projects as mentioned earlier were not fully funded under 2020. A lot of those were carried over, we're actually funding projects for 2 years,” Angara said on Wednesday. 

Data from the senator’s office showed that the Department of Health (DOH) followed third in terms of budget allocation, with P287.47 billion, while government response to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue in 2021.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, he explained, followed fourth in terms of budget allocations because of its personnel’s salaries. The agency has the biggest manpower component, he added.

Under the DILG are protective services including the Philippine National Police and Bureau of Fire Protection, and also the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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The senator’s office clarified that COVID-19 response programs were spread out over different agencies and not only in the health department, saying that P70 billion earmarked for vaccines was listed among unprogrammed funds.

When asked why the bulk of the Philippines' COVID-19 vaccine fund was marked under unprogrammed allocations, Angara said the Department of Finance (DOF) "assured" lawmakers that the item would be funded next year.

Unprogrammed funds are items that will be funded depending on revenues.

Data from Angara’s office showed that in total, there is P82.5 billion allocated for COVID-19 spending under the 2021 budget: P70 billion in unprogrammed funds, P2.5 billion under the DOH-programmed funds, and P10 billion under Bayanihan 2.

Earlier in the day, the budget heads of the Senate and the House of Representatives confirmed that Congress was planning to extend the validity of 2 spending bills to ensure that delayed COVID-19 response projects would still be rolled out.

Here are the top recipients of the 2021 budget as follows, according to data released by Angara’s office: 

Amid pandemic, education, infra allocations edge out health funding in 2021 budget 2

House Appropriations Committee Chair ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap explained why the health sector is not the top recipient of government funding despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

”DPWH nakapasok ‘yung mga quarantine facilities. ‘Pag sinabi health lang kasi kung gagawa ng new hospitals ang laki ng budget -- hindi matatapos agad. Iba pumasok sa special purpose building nagagamit as quarantine facilities,” Yap said. 

(Quarantine facilities are under DPWH. We cannot say that the health sector will build new hospitals because it would require a bigger budget, and it will not be immediately finished. The special purpose building could be used for quarantine facilities.) 

For his part, bicameral panel member House Ways and Means Committee Chair Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said that the budget reflected a roughly P300-billion increase in infrastructure.

“I had conversations with the economic managers. We came up with 4 agreements. First was an increase for infra spending by around P275 billion. That materialized. Second, the rollout of credit measures that will activate P551 billion in credit stimulus. Third, to set 9 percent as the growth target for 2021. And fourth, to have a third or even fourth stimulus package,” Salceda explained.

“This was a conversation we had in April. In retrospect, that conversation was prescient. Government should have been more aggressive with encouraging credit and bridging borrowers with lenders," he added.

Salceda’s office said the 2021 budget also includes P7.6 billion in additional spending for adapting to the post-COVID-19 scenario, including items on telecommunications enhancements. 

The budget also includes P203 billion for health care.

“The ball will be in the President’s court early, so there is almost no risk that we will face a delayed budget enactment this year. That can only mean well for 2021 economic recovery,” he said. 

“The early passage of the 2021 GAA (General Appropriations Act), along with the expected adoption of CREATE (Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act) by the House later today, will be strong foundations of our 2021 bounceback. With these reforms done, we can focus on economic relief and the vaccine rollout,” the lawmaker pointed out.