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Sunday, April 11, 2021

The PH 2021 proposed budget: Pale and bland for health, juicy for infra #KabanNiJuan

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Jiggy Calucag
Dreamer. Youth Leader. Advocate. Liberal.

Government budgeting is a manifestation of one administration’s priority in governance. As a form of national policy, budget is government’s unique tool to arrest problems, address situation, and improve the conditions of the public. The budget will also allow you to examine what the government wants to achieve in a particular year.

Annually, the executive branch of the government prepares the National Expenditure Program (NEP) under the auspices of the Department of Budget and Management; this is a version of the President’s appropriations for the next fiscal year that contains entire government’s proposed program. NEP deliberation in Congress is one of the most contentious and exhaustive in the legislative calendar.

The NEP for fiscal year 2021 which amounts to Php 4.5 trillion is now submitted to Congress and currently in the process of review and deliberation. The way 2021 NEP is formed drew criticisms from various sectors including the lawmakers themselves, civil society organizations, and pundits.

This year’s budget has a theme of “Reset, Rebound, and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability” with infrastructure project of the administration getting the lion’s share earmarking P1.107 trillion, but with measly budget of Php 203.1 billion for the health sector which Senator Hontiveros called “anemic.”

In the government’s assumptions, the economy will revive next year so the SAP is out even if there is an estimated 5 million increase in the number of poor Filipinos. Sen. Franklin Drilon flagged the non-inclusion of Social Amelioration Program (SAP) in its Php 4.5T budget. The DBM, in response, simply answered that 4Ps program is enough to cater the need of the poor, reiterating their high optimism that the economy will “rebound” next year. However, during budget deliberations in Senate, as disclosed by Sen. Lacson, the country’s economic managers admitted that we can only get the vaccine around October of next year.

The administration crafted the NEP with much anticipation that the pandemic will slow down and stop wreaking havoc to the country’s economy and health care system. Hence, budget is concentrated in the President’s flagship infrastructure project Build, Build, Build as it gets P1.107 trillion. But should we really prioritize Build, Build, Build in post-Covid rehabilitation of the country next year? How about ramping up our health care system in order to make it foolproof for another wave of this pandemic? Some experts believe that Covid-19 will not be wiped out but will come back as seasonal flu. This should only behoove our government to stop neglecting our healthcare sector which it has been doing for the past years.

The government should also focus more on education particularly on the adoption of digital infrastructure for online learning, and of course on science and technology. Perhaps, critical health, education and scientific infrastructures like new research and medical centers must be adopted as part of the Build, Build, Build master plan. Sadly, this is not the case, at one point, even the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Sec. Fortunato dela Peña appealed for a larger budget for the science and research, yet it fell on deaf ears of the DBM.

Hurrying his legacy

2021 is the fifth (5th) year of the President in office. This is also the last time that his administration will craft and fully implement the budget they proposed. With the projected dismal 56% completion rate of Build Build Build by the end of 2022, an infra-heavy budget for 2021 is needed to give justice to their claim that President Duterte’s period is country’s “golden age of infrastructure.” However, DOTr and DPWH, the two (2) agencies who are tasked to implement the Build, Build, Build are chronically underspending due to bureaucratic and other constraints, which prevents this much-touted Duterte legacy to be fully realized.

Next year, the government’s communications group will surely focus on the achievements and legacy of the President. This “legacy” has to be felt by the poor and middle-class who will be the deciding voters in 2022, but the remaining period is just a year and a half from the time of the passage of this measure.

Election budget

Next year’s budget is also crucial in view of the 2022 elections. This budget will surely be used to prepare and mobilize for the 2022 Elections. The administration deliberately designed 2021’s NEP to spend more in infrastructure in order to make an impression of growth and prosperity. This also allows them to score political points since infra projects are credited to incumbent officials and their allies, as part of their achievements. Not to mention the standard operating procedure (SOP) in the form of corruptions in infrastructure projects. In fact, Sen. Lacson questioned the lump-sum allocation- which the Supreme Court has already proscribed as pork barrels- in the 2021 NEP. He also flagged the re-appropriated items in the 2020 NEP that are still reflected in the present proposed budget. Local political pundits believe that the 2021 budget is going to form part of administration’s campaign chest war.

Demanding Budget Transparency and Accountability

This pandemic vividly ruins our normal ways of living, including our livelihoods, and to greater extent, people’s lives. Our budget is our weapon to deal with this problem judiciously, hence, we cannot just leave this in the hands of the politicians alone. Having said this, our mobile phones are the nearest democratic tools that we have and can use to maximize our involvement in the budget deliberation. We have to be more vigilant with the budget deliberations since the appropriated items can still change and lump sum allocations can still be inserted in the final 2021 NEP.

This is our budget, and it should belong to us not just in the four corners of the Congress’ session halls. In these budget deliberations, actual lives are at stakes , thus, we cannot just allow Congress to serve us a bad budget.We need to get involved by calling for transparency and accountability in the budget process! [Read: PXXXT Launches #KabanNiJuan a Budget Transparency Advocacy Campaign and Special Coverage of Congressional Deliberation on 2021 National Budget]

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