Budget Watch

Congress OKs P5.024-trillion budget in 2022 for pandemic-hit PH

Mara Cepeda
Congress OKs P5.024-trillion budget in 2022 for pandemic-hit PH

GETTING VAXXED. Residents line up at a vaccination site in Manila to receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots on December 15, 2021.

Rappler

But Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas hits the misplaced budget priorities, as the military and the police are set to get higher funds than the health sector

MANILA, Philippines – The 18th Congress approved the proposed P5.024-trillion budget in 2022, boosting allocations for health workers’ benefits, coronavirus vaccine booster shots, and other programs aimed to combat the effects of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, December 15, the House of Representatives and the Senate separately ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), in effect giving their nod to next year’s budget. 

It took the House and Senate contingents to the bicam a little over a week to reconcile conflicting provisions in both chambers’ versions of the GAB, with the bicam members approving their report on Wednesday morning.

Senate finance committee chair Sonny Angara told Rappler the 2022 GAB would allot P188.3 billion for the Department of Health (DOH), which includes around P5 billion worth of allocations for retirement and life insurance premiums. This amount is on top of the separate appropriations for the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and government-run hospitals.

This is a much lower amount than the P230.11 billion that senators wanted to give the DOH in their version of the GAB, and much closer to the House-approved version that set the amount at P182.67 billion

Angara said in his speech during the plenary session on Wednesday that the DOH budget included funds lawmakers realigned for the COVID-19 benefits and compensation of health workers, emergency hiring of medical frontliners, purchase of lab equipment, operation of national reference laboratories, and hiring and training of contact tracers. 

House committee on appropriations chair Eric Yap also said at least P50 billion was set aside for the special risk allowances of health workers, while another P50 billion was allocated to purchase booster shots for Filipinos in 2022. 

The DOH’s Health Facilities Enhancement Program was also further increased to P22.99 billion to be used for the construction, upgrading, and expansion of healthcare facilities and procurement of hospital equipment. 

Another P21.36 billion would also be set aside for assistance to indigent patients. 

To help increase manpower in the health sector, some P3 billion would be set aside to fund medical scholarships in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas, however, was dismayed at the minimal increase in the DOH’s final budget for 2022. She said it highlighted once again the Duterte government’s misplaced budget priorities, as the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police would get P213.78 billion and P190.69 billion, respectively.

“Napakaliit ng dinagdag na badyet para sa kalusugan sa kabila ng malakas na panawagan ng mamamayan, kasama ang mga doktor, nars, at iba pang frontline health workers…. Napakaliit ng budget para sa kalusugan na nasa P183.89 billion habang nagpapakasasa ang mga militar at kapulisan sa tumataginting na budget ng AFP (P213.78 billion) at PNP (P190.69 billion),” said Brosas in a statement.

(There was just a small increase in the budget for health despite the strong calls of the public, including doctors, nurses, and other frontline health workers…. The health budget at P193.89 billion is too small, while the military and the police get overflowing funds with the budget of the AFP (P213.78 billion) and the PNP (P190.69 billion).)

Funding sectors hit by pandemic

Legislators also moved to ensure there would be enough funds to help schools prepare should more face-to-face classes be allowed in 2022.

The bicam agreed to retain the special provision introduced by senators that would allow public schools and SUCs to use their allotments for maintenance and other operations to improve the ventilation in their facilities and procure COVID-19 tests and other necessary supplies to comply with health protocols. 

On November 15, the Philippines reopened face-to-face classes in select areas after almost two years, as schools were kept shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To assist sectors badly hit by the pandemic, Congress approved a P5-billion fund for the government’s social amelioration program and P25.02 billion for the social pension for indigent senior citizens.

The Department of Social Welfare and Social Development’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations would get P39.87 billion, while P107.67 billion would be allotted for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. 

Allocations were also set for the fuel subsidies of public transportation drivers and the free COVID-19 testing for jobseekers. 

Legislators, however, also agreed to give Duterte’s controversial anti-insurgency task force P17 billion in 2022 – a compromise of the bicam after senators earlier slashed the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) proposed budget by P24 billion.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate believes the NTF-ELCAC should have been defunded instead.

“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,” said Zarate.

With Congress’ approval of the 2022 budget, copies of the GAB will now be printed in the coming days and then sent to Malacañang for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature. 

The President must sign the 2022 GAB by December 31 so that the government would not have to operate on a reenacted budget in 2022. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.