Group asks Senate to allot P1 trillion for pandemic response in 2022 budget
MANILA, Philippines—The Senate should recast over P1 trillion of the proposed 2022 budget from government infrastructure projects to programs that would address pandemic quicker, like cash aid during lockdowns and support for health care workers, a multi-sectoral group said.
The People’s Budget coalition—organized by the groups iLEAD, Citizen’s Budget Tracker and the Makati Business Club—proposed a P1.16 trillion recast budget to address the country’s needs during the pandemic, particularly on social protection, health, labor and employment, education, and public transportation.
About half of the proposed budget, or P540 billion, would go to a cash subsidy program for 18 million households to get cash aid of P10,000 per month for three months, according to a copy of the group’s proposal.
This was followed by over P176 billion for the health sector, which would be used to provide various forms of support to health care workers, as well as for affordable testing and contact tracing.
The coalition, whose member groups represent different sectors impacted by the pandemic like education, transportation, and health care, had already submitted the proposal to the Senate last week, according to Zy-Za Suzara, executive director of Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD).
When asked why social protection programs should have a larger share in the group’s proposal than health care, Suzara pointed to the impact of the pandemic, which went beyond health and affected nearly every aspect of people’s lives.
“Just because the lockdown was lifted does not mean people don’t need help anymore,” Suzara said.
At over P1 trillion, the recast fund would mean having to reallocate a fifth of the over P5 trillion allotted for next year.
The group had also identified where senators can get the needed funds for the pandemic: P841 billion from the Duterte administration’s current budget proposal, 87 percent of which is meant for infrastructure projects like roads in the middle of a health crisis.
“We are not saying infrastructure is bad. We are not saying we do not need to modernize our infrastructure,” Suzara said.
“What we’re saying is we need to prioritize. In the middle of the pandemic, should this really be our priority?” Suzara said at a press briefing on Tuesday (Nov. 9).
“The call really is to recast the priorities of the national budget. And when you recast the priorities of the national budget, you necessarily have to reallocate.”
If adopted, the budget would reflect how civil society had become more active in the use of taxpayers’ money, especially during a crisis.
Other members of the People’s Budget Coalition are Alliance of Health Workers, Aral Pilipinas Coalition, CURE COVID Network, Move as One Coalition, Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilya ng Pantawid and Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa from the NAGKAISA Labor Coalition.
Although infrastructure development can also help create jobs, the coalition pointed to a painfully slow rollout of funds over the past few years, which would also limit the impact that infrastructure programs could bring.
Suzara said the group had studied the disbursement record of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in the past four to five years. She said each of the agencies only disbursed less than 40 percent of their funds in a year.
“So if we’re saying that Build, Build, Build is the main strategy for economic recovery, how is that gonna happen if these agencies are only able to spend less than 40 percent of their own budget?” Suzara said.
Suzara added that social protection funds, on the other hand, would go directly and faster to the people who needed them, which would also encourage spending in a consumer-driven economy.
Sen. Nancy Binay, whose father and former Vice President Jejomar Binay is also running for senator in 2022, had said that the government’s budget for next year is “not ready for a war with COVID.” It remains to be seen if other lawmakers would be keen in supporting a recast of the budget.
Ken Abante, coordinator of the Citizens’ Budget Tracker, said that the group was aware it would be hard to fund the entire proposal. However, he hoped that the budget would still be used over time.
“I’m guessing at this point it’s going to be very hard to fund the entire 1 trillion pesos. we know that,” Abante said.
“Our eyes are open. but we wanted to make a point that if the budget process is truly inclusive, then all of these different provisions and line items should have also been included within the P5 trillion deficit,” he said.
“So while our best case scenario is everything is funded in the 2022 national budget if we had ideally a fully inclusive budget process, we know we don’t have that,” Abante said.
“So it’s important to be able to fund it over time, which is something that should be debated and deliberated on as the plenary debates go on,” he said.
“We’re very open to meet with allied legislators to be able to come up with a good program over time,” he added.
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