House Appropriations Committee chairman and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Sunday said he is looking forward to smooth plenary debates on the proposed 2021 P4.5 trillion national budget starting today under the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap.
“Eric is working hard and works well with House Majority Leader Martin. Upon the instruction of Speaker Cayetano, the schedules are well grouped and assignments are well organized,” he said.
Yap is set to deliver his sponsorship speech for House Bill No. 7727 or the General Appropriations Bill to signal the start of the plenary deliberations.
After 15 days of budget briefings, Yap, on Sept. 25, said that “House Bill No. 7727 was passed” on the same day “at the committee level.”
“I could not thank the vice chairpersons and members of the committee enough for their dedication and hard work to have it approved. Of course, I would also like to thank the House leadership for their undying support and to everyone who helped the committee in overcoming the first hurdle in the passage of the 2021 national budget,” he said.
The House of Representatives will take a break starting Oct. 17.
“As we have said many times, this year’s budget proceeding is both historic and challenging not only because of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, but also because of other circumstances that this august chamber is in. We may have encountered a few bumps in the road during the past couple of weeks, but it surely helped us recalibrate our focus and take one step closer toward our goal,” Yap said.
He called for the cooperation, unity and professionalism of his fellow lawmakers to ensure that the 2021 national budget is passed on time, and that it is responsive to needs of the people.
For his part, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said “the timely passage of the national budget is very crucial to our economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. We are united with the common goal to get the country back on its feet.”
He lauded the Cayetano-Romualdez leadership for the swift passage on third and final reading of many proposed laws in the past few weeks, including House Bill 5989 or the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience authored by Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, meanwhile, asked Congress to increase the budget of the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to boost the government’s ability to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and address the plight of the poor.
He also underscored the need to include the special amelioration program in next year’s budget.
He noted that the budget of the two government agencies should be prioritized as they are critical in the government’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic. He said the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for next year does not adequately respond to the country’s needs today.
“The budget is not responsive to the pandemic that we are facing today,” said Drilon in a radio interview.
He also cited the lack of SAP, commonly referred to as “ayuda”, in the budget for 2021 to provide immediate relief to Filipinos, particularly those who lost their jobs and source of income due to the pandemic.
He also hit the DSWD for not distributing P10 billion to the poor. The P10-billion unused budget is part of the funding for the SAP under the Bayanihan 1, which the agency said it did not release due to the “double compensation” and the failure of local government units to provide the list of beneficiaries.
But for Drilon, the DSWD should have been more lenient during these “extra-ordinary” times in the country’s history.
He said there are 5.5 million Filipinos who are hungry because of the pandemic. “They did not have jobs for the past six months. They rely on the government for help. That is why to me, to withhold the fund intended for the poor is wrong,” he said.
Drilon said that the unused funds should be distributed to the poor, opposing the DSWD’s insistence to use it for livelihood assistance instead.
“What the people need today is ayuda. The livelihood assistance, let other agencies do it. What the DSWD is mandated to do is to provide assistance to the poor,” he said.
Drilon also cited the decrease in the budget of the DOH, saying it could affect the government’s ability to curb the pandemic.
The total budget of the DOH for 2020, including additional appropriation from Bayanihan 1 and 2, amounts to P180 billion, according to Drilon, but it was reduced to only P131 billion in the National Expenditures Program.
“Maybe at least for 2021, let us give utmost priority to the budgets of the DOH and DSWD. I am not saying the DILG and DND do not need a higher budget but what I am saying is at least for next year, let us give priority to our social service sector in order to address the pandemic,” Drilon said.
The DOH and the DSWD placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of the highest allocation per sector, topped by the education sector (DepEd, Ched and Tesda) with P754.4 billion, a Constitutional provision; followed by the Department of Public Works and Highway with P667.3 billion, the DILG with P246.1 billion and the DND with P209.1 billion.
“We should increase the allocation of DOH and DSWD and provide funds for SAP for next year. This budget should be, first and foremost, be health-oriented. There is no economy to speak if we do not have healthy persons, if citizens are afraid to go out, because of the lack of confidence in the ability of the government to address the pandemic,” Drilon said.
“The people’s confidence can be bolstered if they see that we have allocated enough funds to combat the virus,” he added.
“The way I see it, however, the proposed budget for 2021 will not be able to respond to the crisis sufficiently given the cut in the budget for the social service sector and the absence of a social amelioration program.”