Double standards in 2022 proposed national budget?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon (Senate of the Philippines photo)

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon lamented how the funds for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots and the special risk allowance of medical frontliners remain in limbo while the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is certain to receive P28 billion funding in the proposed 2022 National Expenditures Program (NEP).

Drilon explained that the administration of vaccine boosters is made necessary by the fact that the efficacy of vaccines wanes after six months, leaving the healthcare workers, who were among the first who were vaccinated in the country, vulnerable.

“Will we ever reach herd immunity when the vaccines’ efficacy wanes after 6 months?  Ang ibig sabihin po, yung mga health workers natin na una nang nabakunahan noong Marso, ay vulnerable na ulit sa Oktubre dahil humina or humupa na ang proteksyon ng vaccine matapos ang anim na buwanDapat po itong lagyan ng tiyak na pondo. This being part of the unprogrammed funds is symbolic of the government’s priorities” Drilon pointed out.

Nag-mutate na ang virus. Ang style ng gobyerno sana mag-mutate na din,” he added.

The funding for NTF-ELCAC is part of the programmed appropriation while the funds for COVID-19 booster shots in the unprogrammed fund. The unprogrammed funds may only be released when total revenues exceeded the target or through loan or aid, he noted.

While the funding for the booster has been left to chance, the funding for NTF-ELCAC is guaranteed in the NEP, Drilon noted.

Drilon pointed out the skewed priorities when he asked, “Ano po ang ibig sabihin nito? Ang NTF-ELCAC ay nasa programmed fund o may tiyak na pondo. Ang booster shots ay unprogrammed o mapopondohan lamang kung may labis na pera, kung sakaling kumita ang gobyerno ng sobra sa inaasahan o kung may magpautang o magbigay ng grant o aid.”

In the face of these challenges, the proposed investment on the health and social services sectors is grossly inadequate, according to Drilon.

The government is targeting to vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of the year and 90% to reach herd immunity by 2022.

But as of September 5, only 15 million individuals have been fully vaccinated, he noted.

“Only when we effectively manage the threat of COVID-19 can economic activity resume. But how can we do that if we continue to disregard as we have disregarded in this budget the health sector?” Drilon said.

DOH only ranks 4th in the departments that will receive the biggest budget in 2022, with P242 billion behind the Department of Public Works and Highway and the Department of Interior and Local Government that will receive P686.1 billion and P250.5 billion, respectively.

“Billions are allocated for intelligence and confidential funds but we cannot even bother to take care of the health workers by funding their Special Risk Allowance. There is no line item in the budget for hazard pay. Not a single peso is allocated for our medical front liners’ meals, accommodation, and transportation allowance,” the minority leader said.

Drilon called the P5 trillion proposed national budget the “most detached from reality” for prioritizing funding anti-insurgency against the backdrop of rising cases of COVID-19 in the country due to the spread of the Delta variant.

“For the past 23 years that I have been analyzing the budget, the 2022 budget, is the most detached from reality and has the most skewed priorities,” Drilon said.

“Are we saying that insurgency has become a bigger, more dangerous threat than COVID-19 and its fast-mutating variant?” Drilon asked.

“Why is anti-insurgency a budget priority for the next fiscal year? Are we saying that the NTF-ELCAC is more needed than our education sector?” he lamented.

Amid rising incidence of hunger, Drilon also questioned why the proposed budget does not provide funds for social amelioration program or ayuda, while the budget for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program barely increased.

Drilon said the government should provide economic stimulus “in these times when our people are in such dire need.”