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Senate opener takes up P5.04 trillion budget

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The Senate on Wednesday formally opened the plenary deliberations on the P5.04-trillion proposed national budget under the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).

This comes after Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, endorsed the 2022 GAB on the floor on Tuesday evening — marking the start of the Chamber’s marathon hearings on the proposed budgets of various government departments and its attached agencies.

The hours-long debates discussed the general principles of the budget bill along with the allocations for the government’s economic agencies including the Department of Finance, National Economic Development Authority, and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

They were also scheduled to discuss the budgetary support to government corporations and allocations to all local government units including the budgets for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Angara, in sponsoring the bill, earlier said he hopes it will show that “underlying hope that alongside the budget comes the end of the pandemic.”

He also assured it will focus on helping revive the country’s economy as he described it as a “Covid recovery budget.”

“It’s a Covid recovery budget. I say that because a lot of the interventions were really dictated by Covid,” the senators told reporters in a virtual media briefing on Tuesday.

“One of the changes we saw for 2022 is that we have to learn to live with the virus. We are now protected from the virus because we have been immunized so now we have to learn to live with it and adjust to it,” he added.

Among the amendments the Senate panel made are the inclusion of Special Risk Allowance (SRA) of healthcare workers, additional funding for the Department of Health (DoH) and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and added allocation for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccine booster shots.

It also crafted a provision ordering fund sweep funds currently parked under the procurement service of DBM (PS-DBM) remain unobligated by 31 December and disclosed it slashed P24 billionfrom the proposed P28 billion budget of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) to fund the SRA of healthcare workers.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, lauded the lowering of the budget of NTF ELCAC stressing that the health crisis should be the priority of the country’s spending.

He also warned that the country’s recovery is still “in limbo” — in contrast to President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that the Philippines is “winning” against the dreaded coronavirus.

“I am happy to hear the President saying we are winning the battle against Covid-19. However, I think it is a bit too early to tell, especially with the recent survey done by Bloomberg (which) showed that the Philippines is the least resilient among those surveyed and therefore, the worst place to be in during the pandemic and. We face a long road to recovery,” Drilon said in his opening speech.

“I am pointing these out to emphasize the importance of the 2022 national budget. The 2022 national budget should provide the much-needed impetus for economic recovery, not because of the election,” he said.

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