MANILA – A lawmaker at the House of Representatives on Wednesday said a separate funding should be allocated for the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response and recovery efforts in the proposed 2021 national budget.
In a press conference, Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo said the proposed Covid-19 fund should be properly monitored, in terms of targeting, utilization, and evaluation of outcomes, if the proposed 2021 national budget were to be considered as economic stimulus.
“In principle, dahil bitin pa sa ngayon ang pondo ng Bayanihan 2 para sa stimulus, dapat po lahat ng PHP406-billion fund increase sa GAA [General Appropriations Act] 2021 ay para sa Covid response and recovery… Hindi naman mahirap i-transform ang GAA 2021 into a meaningful and effective Bayanihan 3 (In principle, since the funds for Bayanihan 2 for stimulus is not enough, the PHP406-billion fund increase in GAA 2021 should be allotted for COVID response and recovery… It is not that difficult to transform the GAA 2021 into a meaningful and effective Bayanihan 3),” she said.
She also pointed out that the PHP4.5-trillion appropriations for next year may not be enough for economic recovery in the pandemic’s aftermath.
Quimbo particularly noted the meager budget of the Department of Labor and Employment considering that many workers have been displaced since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
She cited a Social Weather Stations Survey showing that 45.5 percent or about 27.3 million were jobless in July.
“Ang DOLE ay inaasahan sa pagbigay ng unemployment assistance, pero ang proposed budget para sa TUPAD [Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged / Displaced Workers] ay sapat lamang para sa one-time assistance ng 2 million displaced workers (DOLE is expected to provide unemployment assistance, but the proposed budget for TUPAD is only enough for a one-time assistance for 2 million displaced workers),” she said.
She said wage subsidies are needed to preserve remaining jobs–targeted, for example, to companies that need to implement double shifting to allow compliance with physical distancing–amounting to as much as PHP55 billion.
The lady solon said the Department of Trade and Industry, which is expected to give assistance to micro, small, and medium enterprises critically hit by the pandemic, is not even part of the top ten departments that received the highest budget.
She said the 2021 national budget should fulfill the economic stimulus requirements by connecting the “pre-Covid and post-Covid worlds” and protecting lives and livelihoods.
Next year’s budget, she noted, should provide sufficient funds for connectivity, not only for roads, but more importantly for internet connectivity especially for public schools.
“The GAA 2021 should be the bridge that connects the past and the future. Now is the time to discard old and inefficient ways and use this opportunity for a better normal. Reforms such as the use of digital platforms for disbursements of social assistance must be supported,” she said.
She said Congress has to ensure that every single peso is used wisely towards economic recovery.
“We in the Minority will need and will use a bigger than usual magnifying lens to scrutinize the GAA 2021. Every peso should count towards saving lives, saving jobs, while minimizing leakages due to corruption. That is the task ahead and the challenge before us,” she said.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Tuesday submitted to the House of Representatives the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for Fiscal Year 2021 amounting to PHP4.506 trillion.
The proposed 2021 national budget is 9.9 percent higher than the PHP4.1-trillion appropriations for 2020 and equivalent to 21.8 percent of the gross domestic Product (GDP).
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House is aiming to approve the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act by end of September, and have it signed by President Rodrigo Duterte by November.
“We will try to finish the budget before the end of September. [It’s a] very ambitious schedule, to send it right away to the Senate because we hope for the first time, if I’m not mistaken, in history, we can sign the budget maybe late November or mid-November as a sign of unity by our country,” Cayetano said. (PNA)