Duterte signs pandemic-era 2021 budget into law

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the pandemic-era P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget into law on Monday, December 28. 

The signing of Republic Act 11518 or the 2021 General Appropriations Act took place during a socially-distanced event at Malacañang, where Duterte, along with the few lawmakers and Cabinet officials present, stood wearing face masks and face shields. 

The signing of the budget on Monday, 3 days before the end of the year ensured there would be no reenactment of the 2020 budget, which was not formulated to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malacañang earlier said Duterte would veto certain items in the national budget, though the President made no mention of what these were during the ceremonial signing on Monday. 

Asked to comment on the matter on Monday afternoon, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he had no information yet on the matter. 

Pandemic finance

In a short televised address, Duterte said the 2021 budget would allow the government to continue its flagship “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program that would in turn support other government projects such as its social services programs. 

The President likewise highlighted the P72.5 billion allocated in the 2021 budget for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, describing it as one of the “most important” items in the government’s budget. 

Yet the bulk of this amount – P70 billion – is largely made of unprogrammed allocations which will depend on the availability of government revenues in the coming year. The other P2.5 billion is lodged under the Department of Health’s budget. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier raised concerns there would be no assurances the government could fund the P70 billion for vaccines as these dependent on the government having excess tax collection. 

Senate finance committee chair Senator Sonny Angara, however, said the Department of Finance was confident there would be enough excess tax collections. 

Aside from this, the government also has P10 billion for vaccines under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2). 

What's in the budget?

In a statement, Angara said the P4.5 trillion in the 2021 national budget will allow for the implementation of several programs aimed at responding to the pandemic. These include support for the Department of Education’s distance or “blended” learning program, assistance to indigent patients and displaced workers, contact tracing efforts, and supplementary feeding programs. 

It also includes a P19.1 billion budget for the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). 

The 2021 budget was not without its stumbling blocks, as critics and lawmakers raised questionable infrastructure and development projects, warning these could be equivalent to pork barrel funds. The budget was also the subject of politics at the House of Representatives where a speakership tussle erupted, involving Taguig representative Alan Peter Cayetano and now House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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