WITH 22 affirmative votes, no negative votes and no abstentions, the Senate on Thursday, November 26, 2020, approved the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021 on third and final reading.
The Senate amended the approved House Bill 7727, or 2021 General Appropriations Bill, to strengthen the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response and disaster management efforts as well as expedite economic recovery.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the committee on finance, said the bill now includes funds for the procurement of vaccines against Covid-19 and the implementation of a mass immunization program, including storage, transmission and distribution of the vaccines.
Funds to recruit, train, deploy and support contact tracers under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) have also been allotted, continuing the program started under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2).
Angara said funding for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) was increased to allow training of more Covid-19 testing laboratories and expand surveillance of influenza-like illnesses and severe acute respiratory infections.
“By providing them (RITM) with more funds now, we hope to further empower them and save more lives,” Angara said.
Significant additions to the budgets of regional hospitals, such as the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, were also made to allow them to increase their bed capacity and upgrade their equipment and facilities.
Funds for the health facilities enhancement program of the Department of Health (DOH), recently enacted local hospital laws and government assistance to indigents program were also increased.
Additional funding was found for family super health centers, supply and delivery of dialysis packages in several local government units, prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, and implementation of the national integrated cancer control program.
The Senate also seeks to strengthen medical schools to ensure a pipeline of medical professionals and support the Doktor Para sa Bayan bill.
The budget for disaster response and mitigation programs was also augmented.
A disaster, rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance program has also been included in the 2021 budget. This will help local government units build shelter and resettlement sites as well as roads, bridges, flood control and evacuation facilities. This fund may also be used for crop and livestock support, agricultural support, fisheries support and social protection mechanisms.
Additional funding was provided for electric cooperatives emergency and resiliency fund to help them prepare better for calamities.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is given additional budget to help more Filipino families in distress.
Funds were allotted to support native chocolate and coffee development programs, and the National Dairy Authority as part of efforts to expedite economic recovery.
Additional funding was provided to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for the implementation of various programs to assist workers displaced by the pandemic.
The Department of Education (DepEd) budget was increased for school supplies, teachers’ allowances and equipment.
The Senate also boosted funding for the Philippine Science High School, alternative learning system, printing of learning modules to support flexible learning options, and scholarship programs of the Commission on Higher Education.
To support efforts to further open up the economy, the 2021 budget will empower the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to enforce health protocols in all public transportation terminals.
Initial funding has been allotted for the establishment of the proposed Philippine Judicial Marshal Services to strengthen the rule of law in the country in light of the recent killing of a trial court judge in Metro Manila and a lawyer in Cebu City.
A higher budget for the Philippine National Police (PNP), its maritime group, cybercrime unit and internal affairs office was also approved.
The budget for the Commission on Human Rights was also increased.
To promote a return to normalcy amid the pandemic, Angara said they have also increased the budget of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and maintain funding for seminars, training and workshops for sports.
Filipino athletes competing in international competitions will also be supported.
The budget bill was passed by the Senate in record time, having been approved after only about a month of deliberations despite the calamities, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri noted.
The Senate received a copy of the approved bill from the House of Representatives on October 27.
“We worked in record time, Mr. President...We did this for the Filipino people. We wanted to show them that we’re responsive to their needs, particularly in these trying times of the pandemic and the typhoons and calamities,” Zubiri said.
With the Senate approval, a bicameral conference committee will be convened to reconcile the two versions of the GAB. The final bill will be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval before the end of the year. (Marites Villamor-Ilano/SunStar Philippines)