Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon sought to increase the budgets of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in order to bolster the government’s ability to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and address the plight of the poor, as he underscored the need to include the special amelioration program (SAP) in the next year’s budget.
Drilon appealed to Congress to give priority to the budgets of the two agencies critical in the government’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic, saying that the proposed PHP4.5-trillion national budget for next year does not adequately respond to the country’s needs today.
“Sa aking tingin, parang walang pandemic. Yung ating 2021 proposed national budget ay hindi tumutugon sa hinaharap nating pandemic (It seems there is no pandemic). Our proposed 2021 national budget does not respond to the future we are now facing),” Drilon said in an interview over DZBB on Sunday.
He cited the lack of SAP, commonly referred to as “ayuda (assistance)”, in the budget for 2021 to provide immediate relief to Filipinos, particularly those who lost their jobs and source of income due to the pandemic.
He also hit the DSWD for not distributing PHP10 billion to the poor. The PHP10-billion unused budget is part of the funding for the SAP under the Bayanihan 1, which the agency said it did not release due to the “double compensation” and the failure of local government units to provide the list of beneficiaries.
But for Drilon, the DSWD should have been more lenient during these “extraordinary” times in the country’s history.
“Kung ikaw ay mahihirap, kasalanan mo ba kung hindi nag-submit ang LGU? (If you are poor, is it your fault that the LGU did not submit?) There are 5.5 million Filipinos who are hungry because of the pandemic. They did not have jobs for the past six months. They rely on the government for help. That is why to me, to withhold the fund intended for the poor is wrong,” Drilon said.
Drilon maintained that the unused funds should be distributed to the poor, opposing the DSWD’s insistence to use it for livelihood assistance instead.
“What the people need today is ayuda. The livelihood assistance, let other agencies do it. What the DSWD is mandated to do is to provide assistance to the poor,” he said. “Kung walang pera ang taumbayan dahil wala silang trabaho, wala silang pambili, hindi sisigla ang ekonomiya at hindi tayo makaka-recover dito sa ating lumiliit na ekonomiya (If people have no money because they have no work, they have no money to buy, economy will not boom and we will not recover from our contracting economy).”
Drilon also cited the decrease in the budget of the DOH, saying it could affect the government’s ability to curb the pandemic.
The total budget of the DOH for 2020, including additional appropriation from Bayanihan 1 and 2, amounts to PHP180 billion, according to Drilon, but it was reduced to only PHP131 billion in the National Expenditures Program (NEP).
“Maybe at least for 2021, let us give utmost priority to the budgets of the DOH and DSWD. I am not saying the DILG (Interior and local government) and DND (national defense) do not need a higher budget but what I am saying is at least for next year, let us give priority to our social service sector in order to address the pandemic,” Drilon said.
The DOH and the DSWD placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of the highest allocation per sector, topped by the education sector (DepEd, CHED and TESDA) with PHP754.4 billion, a constitutional provision; followed by the Department of Public Works and Highway with PHP667.3 billion, the DILG with PHP246.1 billion and the DND with PHP209.1 billion.
“We should increase the allocation of DOH and DSWD and provide funds for SAP for next year. This budget should be, first and foremost, be health-oriented. There is no economy to speak if we do not have healthy persons, if citizens are afraid to go out, because of the lack of confidence in the ability of the government to address the pandemic,” Drilon said.
Drilon said the people’s confidence can be bolstered if they see that the government has allocated enough funds to combat the pandemic.
“The way I see it, however, the proposed budget for 2021 will not be able to respond to the crisis sufficiently given the cut in the budget for the social service sector and the absence of a social amelioration program,” he said. (PNA)