Lawmakers should drop everything and immediately debate over the proposed 2021 budget. They should pass the new appropriations act swiftly with little time left, as if their lives depend on it.
President Rodrigo Duterte as early as last month stressed the importance of the 2021 spending plan and its early passage, calling it the country’s biggest stimulus package. The 2021 budget in a sense will be the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed the economy and rendered millions of Filipinos jobless.
Lawmakers should be reminded time and again that this is not the time for political bickering. Their petty squabbles can wait but the spending program to reinvigorate the economy and preserve the health of the population should begin on Day One of 2021.
The nation cannot afford another reenacted budget if lawmakers fail on their job. The late approval of the 2019 budget and the subsequent reenacted budget slowed down economic growth in that year. The Philippine economy would have expanded close to 7 percent in 2019 had the budget been passed on time. The delayed approval of the P3.7-trillion 2019 budget resulted in an over full percentage point loss in economic growth.
To recall, the government had to implement a catch-up spending program starting in the third quarter of 2019 to keep the economic growth on target. The Philippines did grow by 5.9 percent that year but the economic performance was nowhere close to the target of at least 6.5 percent.
The Philippines in these trying times should not operate on a reenacted budget. The response to the pandemic requires huge funds in order to effectively procure the vaccine, restore the millions of jobs lost as a result of strict quarantine rules and fund an ambitious infrastructure program to modernize the economy.
The budget is a financial plan of expenses and revenues geared to boost the economy, improve the education and social welfare of the Filipinos and uplift the lives of the people through the creation of more jobs and poverty reduction. It is not about funding the egos of a few squabbling lawmakers.