Bayan Muna: Congress-OK’d 2022 budget not for COVID-19 response
MANILA, Philippines — The proposed 2022 national budget which was approved by Congress still does not look like it was made for COVID-19 response, party-list group Bayan Muna said.
According to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, there are parts in the budget agreed upon by the bicameral conference committee on Wednesday — which was subsequently ratified by both houses of Congress — that should have been used to fund the government’s COVID-19 response instead.
Zarate was referring to the P17.01 billion budget given to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, (NTF-Elcac) an agency that Bayan Muna said is just a tool to harass activists and critics.
“In the main, the bicam should have completely defunded the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict instead of still giving it a gargantuan P17 billion budget,” Zarate said Wednesday.
“These funds, rather than be spent on red-tagging, spreading of fake news and pork barrel, can be better utilized in ramping up our COVID response, especially with new rampaging variants, and, helping our suffering people,” he added.
Aside from that, the lawmaker also pinpointed the relatively small deductions from the Office of the President (OP) funds, which consists of intelligence and confidential funds — allocations which he believes could have been used to provide social aid for people affected by COVID-19 induced lockdowns.
“Nasa P53.478 million lang ang nabawas sa OP kapag kinumpara sa NEP (National Expenditures Program), samantalang napakaraming intelligence funds at confidential funds dito na pwede magamit para sana sa ayuda at iba pang pangangailangan ng ating mamamayan,” Zarate explained.
(Only P53.478 million was slashed from OP if you compare it to the National Expenditures Program, while there are still a lot of intelligence funds at confidential funds which could have been used for social aid and other needs.)
“Maliit lang din ang dagdag sa health budget. Sa overview, 1.2 billion lang ang idinagdag sa health budget, kung ikukumpara naman ang P189.76 (not including Philhealth budget, including GOCC hospitals and PITAHC), mas malaki pa rin ang budget ng AFP (P213.78 billion) at PNP (P190.69 billion),” he added.
(Only small additions were made in the health budget: at an overview, only P1.2 billion was added, and if you compare the health sector’s P189.76 budget, not including Philhealth budget, and GOCC hospitals and PITAHC, the armed forces’ P213.78 billion and the police’s P190.69 billion are still bigger.)
On Wednesday, both the Senate and the House of Representatives ratified the proposed 2022 budget, leaving it up for President Rodrigo Duterte to sign it into law.
Under the Congress-approved budget, P5 billion was allocated for the government’s social amelioration program for 2022, while the cash-based assistance for poor families or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) would get P107.670 billion.
There were also other subsidies that were included in the 2022 budget. However, Zarate stressed again that the country’s expenditures are still geared towards infrastructure programs, as the Department of Public Works and Highways still gets over P700 billion, compared to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s P204 billion.
“Malayong malayo pa rin ang health budget kung ikukumpara sa DPWH with P785.73 billion (The health budget is still far from the DPWH’s P785.73 billion). This is truly tragic since more funds are needed especially for the benefits of frontliners as well as booster shots and syringes. Again, these can be sourced from the NTF-ELCAC funds,” he added.
Before the House session adjourned on Wednesday, Zarate and other Makabayan lawmakers expressed disappointment over the budget which they believe is not attuned to the needs of the country.
However, in a separate interview, House committee on appropriations chair Rep. Eric Yap maintained that the budget is geared towards the COVID-19 response, including vaccination and booster programs, and education with the looming resumption of face-to-face classes.
“Sa amin naman sa House, nagfocus kami talaga sa COVID-19 at syempre sa universities, ‘yong mga SUCS. ‘Yong SRA, yan ang pinaka importante samin sa House lalong-lalo na kay Speaker, naglagay tayo ng halos P50 billion po sa SRA, and syempre po yung booster shot ng vaccine na halos P50 billion din po,” Yap told reporters.
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