Senate approves P4.5 trillion 2021 national budget
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Thursday approved on third and final reading the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.
Twenty-two of the 24 senators voted to approve the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) with no abstentions or negative votes.
“Nananatili pa rin po ang adhikain natin: Na ang pambansang budget ay budget ng pagbangon at pinaka-stratehiya natin mula sa bigat at hirap ng nakaraang taon (2020),” Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, said in a speech.
(We remain with our aim: That this national budget will be for our recovery, our strategy against the struggles of last year.)
According to Angara, the 2021 budget will focus on COVID-19 response, aid for victims of the recent typhoons and the revamp of the Philippine economy, among others.
“Considering that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic, much of the increases the committee has made is in the health sector and with regards to our COVID-19 response,” he said.
Under the Senate version of the budget, P8 billion is lodged under the Department of Health (DOH) for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines while P54 billion is placed under the unprogrammed appropriations or standby funds which will be released depending on the government’s revenue collections.
Some P21 billion is also included under unprogrammed appropriations for the storage, transportation, and distribution costs of the vaccines.
There would also be “significant” additions to the budgets of DOH regional hospitals and other healthcare institutions under the spending bill.
“Indeed, there’s no better time to improve our healthcare system than when we are faced with a grave healthcare crisis,” he added.
For contact tracing, the Senate gave P1 billion for contact tracing under the budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
During budget debates, senators learned that the DILG did not propose any budget for 2021 to implement contact tracing efforts.
The budget would also include a Disaster Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Assistance Program for local government units under the Local Government Support Fund (LGSF).
“Significant funding will be set aside to help LGUs build shelter and resettlements, as well as roads, bridges, flood control, and evacuation facilities,” he said.
“This fund may also be used for agriculture support,” he added.
Transport Infrastructure Upgrades
The Senate also augmented funding for the repair, rehabilitation, and upgrading of infrastructure involving the transport sector with a P226-million increase for ports and a P1.228-billion hike for airport projects.
After the approval in the upper chamber, the Senate and the House of Representatives will then convene in a bicameral conference committee to reconcile their versions of the budget bill.
In October, the budget faced fears of delay when the House of Representatives, under the then Speaker, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, unexpectedly suspended session before the lower chamber can approve the budget bill on final reading.
After convening for a special session to pass the budget measure on final reading from October 13 to 16, the House was able to transmit the spending bill to the Senate last October 27 while Congress was on break.
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