Villafuerte slams Diokno's plan to reduce funds for social protection programs | Inquirer News

Villafuerte slams Diokno’s plan to reduce funds for social protection programs

By: - Reporter / @zacariansINQ
/ 09:05 PM September 11, 2023

Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymund “Lray” Villafuerte on Monday criticized Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno for wanting to reduce spending on social protection programs in the 2024 national budget.

This July 15, 2020 photo shows Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte Jr. (File photo by /NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte on Monday criticized Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno for wanting to reduce spending on social protection programs in the 2024 national budget.

According to Villafuerte, Diokno’s inclination to reduce spending on social protection programs, which include free tertiary education and cash transfers, contradicts President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s commitment to accelerate poverty reduction, especially in the government’s post-pandemic growth agenda.


“I am perplexed by Secretary Diokno’s seeming predilection of late for underspending on social protection programs, as this is anathema to President Marcos’ avowed commitment to accelerate poverty reduction and leave no Filipino behind in his government’s agenda for post-pandemic high and inclusive growth,” Villafuerte said in a statement.


“Secretary Ben (Diokno) appears to have his wires crossed because his push lately for spending cutbacks on social safety nets does not jibe with President Marcos’ budget message to the 19th Congress on much higher public investments to improve the lot of the poor and other disadvantaged sectors, in keeping with his Second Sona (State of the Nation Address) spiel on lifting all boats,” he added.

Furthermore, this is also the opposite of what lawmakers expect, said Villafuerte, noting how Marcos during his second state of the nation promised: “Sa ating pagtahak sa kaunlaran, walang mamamayang Pilipino ang maiiwanan.”

“The last thing we would have expected this budget season from Malacañan is for the head no less of the President’s economic team batting for anti-poor measures like  spending cutbacks in cash transfers like the 4Ps and in the free college tuition program,” he said.

Villafuerte made the pronouncement after Diokno proposed a review of Republic Act (RA) 10931 or the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (UAQTE) Act,” which he said was unsustainable and a waste of public funds in light of the high college dropout rate.

Apart from the proposal on limiting funds for free tertiary education, Villafuerte said Diokno told the media in August that the Department of Finance (DOF) sees a “gradual and progressive decline” in the state budget for the 4Ps and other social protection measure, citing the supposed decline on poverty rate and with the Philippines on track to upper middle-income status.

Due to this, Diokno said the Marcos administration is reviewing the various social protection programs of agencies like the Departments of Labor and Employment, the Department of Transportation, Agriculture and Education.


However, Villafuerte noted that rather than reduction, the elevated inflation gives more reason for the Marcos administration to double down on programs on social protection for the poor and other vulnerable sectors.

According to Villafuerte, more social protection programs are actually needed especially with the rising cost of goods and with the Philippines emerging as the most vulnerable from rising food and energy prices among countries in emerging Asia.

Additionally, Villafuerte said there is no reason for the government to be “stingy” on social protection programs, since the DOF expects a revenue windfall in raising P455.9 billion between 2024 and 2026 from the list of several revenue measures it had endorsed for congressional approval.

Villafuerte noted that following the government’s success in steadily slowing the pace of commodity price spikes from 8.7% in January 2023 to 4.7% last July, the inflation rate rose to 5.3% in August because of the continuous rise in the cost of petroleum products plus rice and other essential food items.

Villafuerte also noted that no relief is coming for consumers, motorists and commuters till end-2023 due to the continuous rise in the cost of petroleum products — which would then lead to higher transportation costs and commodity prices.

Citing a study by market research firm Kantar Philippines, which shows that consumers have been coping with elevated inflation by buying more affordable brands and downsizing, or buying food and other essentials in sachets or small packets, Villafuerte said this is proof that Filipinos are finding it much harder to make ends meet.


Diokno: Inflation still easing despite Aug uptick

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