CONGRESS on Wednesday ratified the Bicameral Conference Committee report for next year’s P5.024-trillion national budget.
“We are still focused on our economic recovery, so it’s not just purely health as we cannot tell how fast or slow our recovery is in the coming year so we have to be prepared either way… What people are looking right now is for work and livelihood,” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters.
Mr. Angara expressed hope that President Rodrigo R. Duterte will sign the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) before Christmas, although he noted this would depend on the printing of the measure.
“The printing office said that they are (open) until 22. If they reopen, it might be signed after Christmas,” he added.
Mr. Duterte should sign the measure before Dec. 31 to ensure the government does not operate on a reenacted budget.
A copy of the approved Bicameral Conference Committee report showed the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) budget increased by P87.56 billion, bringing the total to P785.73 billion.
The Department of Education’s budget went up by P2.55 billion to P592.695 billion, state universities and colleges got an additional P32.47 billion to bring its budget to P104.18 billion.
“We increased funds (in education) because there was no budget in the President’s (version) for face-to-face (classes) since they didn’t anticipate it,” Mr. Angara said in Filipino.
The bicameral committee also raised the Agriculture department’s budget by P3 billion to P68.57 billion.
The Department of Transportation saw its budget slashed by P42 billion, ending up with only P75.24 billion.
The Department of Health’s (DoH) budget went up by P1.22 billion to P183.89 billion.
Mr. Angara said around P45-50 billion in both programmed and unprogrammed funds were allocated for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines and booster shots.
The lawmaker also said that around P20 billion was realigned in the DoH’s budget to provide healthcare workers with allowances and benefits such as hazard pay and special risk allowance.
Also, Mr. Angara said the committee also agreed to allocate P17 billion for the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), adding that 95% of it will be allotted for its Barangay Development Program.
The barangay development program would provide government funding to villages that would be deemed cleared of alleged communist influence by the police, military, and local government units for projects such as farm-to-market roads and social assistance.
“That’s the menu for projects that local government units choose from, so almost all senators are united there. They did not want to put the money in maintenance, training, and the like. They want the people to see the results of the projects,” Mr. Angara said.
However, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said that the bicam report “needs a lot of improvements” to make it responsive against the pandemic.
“The health budget is still far compared to (the budget of) DPWH with 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 said in a statement.
Mr. Zarate added that the funding for the Health department is still smaller compared with the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in the reconciled version, which were at P213.78 billion and P190.69 billion respectively. — R.L.C.Ku