2022 budget not aimed at saving lives, says lawmaker
MANILA, Philippines — The P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022 is “not designed to save lives” as there is no fund allocated for free mass testing for COVID-19 although there are billions of pesos earmarked for the procurement of arms and military equipment.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate made the observation amid an alarming increase in new infections after the holiday season.
In a statement on Tuesday, he lamented the mispriorities in Republic Act No. 11639, or the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), which President Duterte signed toward the end of 2021.
“The national budget is not designed to save the lives of Filipinos but to pander to the security sector’s militarist whims and at the same time, enrich the makers of arms and war materiel,” Zarate said.
Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, “there are no funds for free mass testing for vulnerable persons, essential workers, and employees, but there is money to buy missiles, helicopters and war materiel,” he added.
Zarate also cited the P12.162- billion cut from the initial budget of government hospitals, as reflected in their approved maintenance and other operating expenses.
“The budget of the Philippine General Hospital, one of the primary COVID-19 referral hospitals, was slashed by P694.175 million in its capital outlay. The Food and Drug Administration, the agency in charge of regulating and monitoring vaccines, got a P100-million budget cut. While the P45.368-billion budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine boosters remained under unprogrammed appropriations—meaning, it still has no funds,” the Makabayan lawmaker said.
On the other hand, he noted that the defense budget went up by P15.016 billion from the National Expenditure Program 2021 to the 2022 GAA, while military modernization rose by P2.05 billion compared to the 2021 GAA. The Philippine National Police budget also increased by P28.073 million.
The country has been classified again as “high risk” for COVID-19 transmission after a sharp rise in new cases in recent days, amid the threat posed by the more infectious Omicron variant.
“While the country is still battling the renewed spiking of COVID-19 cases, it is a wonder and a tragedy why the Duterte administration is rushing to become the first foreign customer for the BrahMos cruise missile system jointly developed by India and Russia. The government recently allocated P2.8-billion ($55.5 million) initial funding for the weapon system. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is also set to buy more C-130s and attack helicopters,” he said.
He wondered why, in the last six months of the President’s term, the government was prioritizing and splurging on weapons of mass destruction while claiming there was no money for free COVID-19 testing.
“How tragically ironic can one get when officials tell the unvaccinated to stay at home— more like a house arrest—when it is the government’s incompetence that derailed COVID-19 interventions and even slowed the vaccine rollout. This type of governance really has to stop,” Zarate said.
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