Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Saturday said the House of Representatives would allocate funds in the proposed 2021 budget for the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccine.
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Cayetano said he considered the P4.3-trillion budget the administration plans to submit to Congress as very conservative.
“We know they are being cautious about the deficit, but funds should already be allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine. And we can label it as COVID-related programs so that if the vaccine is not yet available, they can use the money for testing or procurement of medical supplies. They won’t have to go back to Congress for additional appropriation,” Cayetano said.
“What if there is a vaccine and they won’t supply unless you pay at once? So the funds should already be available in the budget,” he said.
Several countries are expecting to develop a vaccine in about a year.
Cayetano said he and his House colleagues “want to enter 2021 fully aware that the country has to meet the challenges of COVID-19 head-on.”
This developed as House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez hailed the initiative of the Duterte administration through Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III to immediately repatriate the remains of overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia, including those who died of COVID-19.
Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on rules, said the plan of the Philippine government to bring back the remains was a great way of showing respect and honoring their huge contributions and sacrifices to keep the economy afloat.
“This is a very difficult moment for the families whose loved ones died while working hard abroad. We support and hail the malasakit (compassionate) proposal of Sec. Bello to bring back home the remains of our kababayans,” said Romualdez who met Bello and Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor in his office Friday night.
Upon instruction from Cayetano, the House committee on public accounts chaired by Defensor held a virtual briefing on the government’s repatriation program for OFWs at the Plenary Hall of the House of Representatives Friday while the majority of lawmakers and resource persons participated via Zoom application.
Defensor, a vice chairman of the House committee on health, also welcomed the planned repatriation of OFWs’ cadavers.
“Thank you President Duterte and Secretary Bello for honoring OFWs who died abroad at the height of this pandemic. We hope that the return of their remains may give a little comfort to their loved ones in this very trying moment,” said Defensor.
Bello said his proposal to repatriate the remains of OFWs from Saudi Arabia was approved by the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force during a meeting last Thursday.
Meanwhile, Cayetano said aside from vaccine funds, the House would include in next year’s budget economic stimulus appropriations to help affected sectors recover from the pandemic.
“We’re already talking about what part of the 2021 budget is stimulus as well,” he said.
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Such appropriations would be in addition to those that would be contained in Bayanihan 2 or the planned We Recover as One Law, he added.
The Speaker said the House, the Senate, and the Department of Finance were now close to agreeing on the final version of the proposed legislation.
“I think 80-90 percent we’ve gone over it and we already have some consensus,” he said.
He said the Bayanihan 2 law would allocate up to P200 billion for recovery programs and projects.
He alerted his colleagues to a possible call by the President for Congress to convene in a special session during the current recess to approve the proposed law.
Bayanihan 2 would include loans for small and medium businesses and funds for the procurement of more testing and medical supplies, and for tourism, he said.
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Part of the money would also go to the requirements of the new-normal blended learning program of the Department of Education, he added.
Cayetano stressed that while Bayanihan 1 or the We Heal as One Law was very general and broad in its language, the House would want Bayanihan 2 to be more detailed.
“For example, we don’t want to allocate funds for tourism in general. We want to be more specific. Is the money for facilities, infrastructure, or is it for training of tourist guides? But we are also discussing some flexibility for the executive branch,” he said.
In the case of DepEd, he said the discussions were focused on what public schools would require when they reopen without face-to-face classes, and on realigning funds for school buildings and supplies to fund the new requirements like computer devices.
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