Budget Watch

Lacson proposes to realign P63B in 2021 budget, says open to special fund for vaccines

JC Gotinga

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Lacson proposes to realign P63B in 2021 budget, says open to special fund for vaccines

PANFILO LACSON. Senator Panfilo Lacson leads a legislative probe on November 24, 2020.

photo by Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB

The money should go to disaster response, education, public health, and a national broadband program, says Senator Panfilo Lacson

Senator Panfilo Lacson proposed P63 billion worth of realignments in the 2021 national budget bill, the bulk of which would be taken from the allotment of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Instead, the amount would be apportioned to local governments’ funds for disaster response, the national broadband program, the education system, the public health system, and other priorities.

Lacson said he would also support a move to pass a special budget or law akin to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act to allow the President to realign funds to procure COVID-19 vaccines.

“I want the budget to be responsive to the sign of the times. I want it to be responsive to the budget philosophy of Reset, Rebound, Recover. These are what we need for 2021, not the multi-purpose buildings, not the double appropriations, not the right-of-way payments that cannot be accomplished anyway,” Lacson said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.

“First things first. We should first address the pandemic and its effects – health issues, development, recovery of the economy. Those are what we need to address in the 2021 budget,” the senator added.

The Senate is currently finalizing its version of the P4.5-trillion general appropriations bill, and it is expected to pass the measure on Thursday, November 26.

Lacson said he proposed to delete a total of P63 billion from the budgets of the DPWH, the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

Of that amount, at least P60 billion would be from the DPWH’s multi-purpose buildings that Lacson earlier flagged as anomalous, except those that would be used as evacuation and quarantine facilities.

Those allegedly anomalous items included double appropriations, right-of-way payments, and overlapping projects between local governments.

Some P500 million would be taken away from the NIA because of some “implementation issues.”

Lacson proposed that these funds be realigned as follows:

  • At least P20 billion for local government units in areas hit hard by recent typhoons, through the Assistance to Local Government Units – Local Government Support Fund (ALGU-LGSF). This includes assistance for evacuation centers and quarantine facilities, for livelihood programs, and for reconstruction.
  • At least P12 billion for the Department of Information and Communications Technology in order to start its P18-billion national broadband program, and its free WiFi program.
  • Additional funds for the Department of Education’s flexible learning options.
  • At least P8 billion to augment the Department of Health’s budget for the Universal Health Care program, through the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), which needs at least P13 billion.

Lacson said establishing a national broadband program would end the government’s reliance on private telcos, and would yield P34 billion in savings from internet service provider fees over the next 5 years.

Searching for a budget for COVID-19 vaccines

Senators have been scouring items in the 2021 budget bill for possible sources of funds for procuring COVID-19 vaccines. So far, only P8 billion is readily available, and another P10-billion allocation is on standby, depending on the availability of revenues.

Senators estimated that the government would need to produce more than P70 billion to obtain COVID-19 vaccines for at least 60 million Filipinos – the number needed to achieve herd immunity.

The government is planning to borrow money to cover the cost of immunizing a majority of the population from COVID-19.

“If we need to even pass a special budget for that or a special law like Bayanihan where the President can realign funds from some items for the purchase of the vaccines, we will do that,” Lacson said. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.