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Senate passes P4.5-trillion 2021 budget bill on final reading

The Senate on Thursday morning, November 26, passed on 3rd and final reading the P4.5-trillion national budget bill with significant amendments increasing allocations for health, social welfare, disaster response, education, and other measures to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 22 senators physically and virtually present in Thursday’s plenary session voted unanimously to approve the budget bill. Senators Leila de Lima and Ronald dela Rosa were absent. De Lima was still in detention, while Dela Rosa was sick with COVID-19.

“Bagaman may pagbabago tayong isinasagawa, nananatili pa rin ang adhikain ng committee report na inilabas ng inyong committee on finance – na ang pambansang budget ay budget ng pagbangon, ang pinaka-stratehiya natin para umahon mula sa bigat at hirap ng nakaraang taon,” Senate finance panel chairperson Sonny Angara said in a speech moments before the vote.

(Although we made changes, the purpose of the committee report released by your committee on finance remains – that the national budget is a budget of recovery, our main strategy to emerge from the heaviness and difficulty of the past year.)

The Senate’s version of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) includes the following increased allotments, according to Angara’s office:

Note: “Unprogrammed appropriations” are allotments that are dependent on the availability of government revenues

Health

  • COVID-19 vaccines: P8 billion under the Department of Health (DOH), P54 billion in unprogrammed appropriations, and another P21 billion in unprogrammed appropriations for storage, transport, and distribution
  • Contact-tracing operations: P1 billion under the Department of the Interior and Local Government
  • Hiring of human resources for health: P15.741 billion
  • Health Facilities Enhancement Program: P6.497 billion under DOH, P4.518 billion in unprogrammed appropriations
  • Capital outlay of regional hospitals of the DOH to increase bed capacity and upgrade facilities: P1.6 billion (P100 million per region)
  • Prevention and control of non-communicable diseases: P462.443 million
  • Prevention and control of communicable diseases: P6.235 billion
  • Funding for medical schools: P1.04 billion
  • Funding for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM)
  • Medical Assistance to Indigent Patients program

Disaster response

  • National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Fund: P21 billion
  • Rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance program for local government units (LGU): P15 billion
  • Quick response fund of the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Philippine National Police
  • Expanded use of the NDRRM Fund to include prevention and preparedness activities

Social Welfare

  • Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development: P12.768 billion
  • Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps): P102.69 billion
  • Social pension: P23.631 billion
  • Sustainable Livelihood Program: P4.504 billion
  • Sustainable Feeding Program: P3.96 billion
  • Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan (Kalahi): P5.75 billion
  • Social amelioration program: P10 billion
  • National ID System: P4.119 billion

Agriculture

  • Total increase in the Department of Agriculture’s budget: P1.857 billion
  • Funding for cacao or coffee planting and processing equipment to be given to 22 coconut-producing areas under the National High Value Crops Development Program
  • Funding for the National Dairy Authority to start a Dairy Goat Project in 18 pilot areas
  • Funding for titling agricultural lands

Education

  • Total increase in budget: P712.348 billion
  • Budget of the Department of Health for school supplies, equipment, printing of class modules, and solar panels in certain schools
  • More National Child Development Centers
  • Funding for the Philippine Science High School
  • Alternative Learning System
  • Flexible learning options
  • More college scholarships

Labor

  • Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged or Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program of the Department of Labor and Employment: P15.839 billion
  • More scholarship programs under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)

Trade and industry

  • Shared service facilities of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI): P105 million
  • One Town, One Product program: P200 million
  • Livelihood Seeding Program - Negosyo sa Barangay: P500 million
  • Regional Inclusive Innovation Cluster: P300 million
  • Project Stride for consumer protection: P50 million
  • Bamboo Industry Development: P30 million

Infrastructure and transportation

  • Repair, rehabilitation, and upgrading of ports: increase of P226 million
  • Repair, rehabilitation, and upgrading of airports: increase of P1.228 billion
  • Enhanced accessibility for senior citizens and persons with disability: P70.27 million (increase)
  • Funding for bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways
  • Health protocols in transport terminals
  • Protected pedestrian crosswalks and bicycle lanes
  • Facilities for persons with disability

Information and communication technology

  • Total increase in the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s budget: P5.202 billion
  • Free wifi in state universities, colleges, and public places: increase of P1 billion
  • National Broadband Plan: increase of P5.902 billion

Peace and order

  • Total increase in the Department of Justice’s budget: P550.39 million
  • Total increase in the Judiciary’s budget: P2.2 billion
  • Initial funding to establish the Philippine Judicial Marshal Service: P50 million
  • 100 judges-at-large: P245 million
  • Budget of the Philippine National Police, particularly its Internal Affairs Service, Anti-Cybercrime Division, and the PNP Maritime Group
  • Budget of the Commission on Human Rights

Arts, culture, and sports

  • Funding for participation in the Asia Pacific Performing Arts Network
  • 2021 Olympics: P250 million
  • Southeast Asian Games: P200 million
  • Asian Regional Games: P100 million
  • Training for arnis: P5 million
  • Philippine Bowling Federation: P8.709 million
  • Samahang Kickboxing ng Pilipinas: P3 million
  • Philippine Football Federation: P5 million
  • Samahang Basketbolista ng Pilipinas: P5 million

“Ultimately, what we have is an improved version, where funds are poured into programs, activities and projects that deserve it the most,” Angara said as he capped off his speech.

The Executive originally proposed only P2.5 billion for COVID-19 vaccines in its National Expenditure Program for 2021. The House version of the bill increased it to P8 billion.

The government aims to inoculate 60 million to 70 million Filipinos in 3 to 5 years, in order to achieve herd immunity, for which it would need more than P70 billion.

The Senate’s passage of the 2021 GAB followed the schedule, with enough time for the bicameral committee conference, ratification by both chambers of Congress, and submission to Malacañang before the year ends.

In October, senators worried that the speakership tussle at the House would delay the budget process, and risk forcing the government to operate on a reenacted budget when 2021 starts. They strongly urged the House under the new speaker, Lord Allan Velasco, to follow the schedule and avoid a delay.

The Senate and the House will convene a bicameral conference committee on the 2021 GAB next week. – Rappler.com

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.

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