By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Reset, rebound, and recover?
Various groups have reiterated their opposition to the 2021 national budget, which the House of Representatives recently passed. This, they said, will not provide due social protection to Filipinos as the country continue to bat the impacts of the dreaded virus to their health and livelihood.
“There is no “Reset, Rebound, and Recover”, these are mere hollow catchwords meant to mislead and deceive the people. In this time of crisis, the budget priority should be channeled to social services, health and education,” ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said.
The 2021 budget received wide backlash over budget cuts on health, education, and other social services. Still, the House of Representatives has approved House Bill No. 7727 by a vote of 257-6 during a four-day special session. The approved bill will now be transmitted to the Senate before it is signed into law by President Duterte.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese San Carlos and co-chairperson of the Church People – Workers Solidarity said that the proposed 2021 national budget “does not guarantee adequate health care especially to the poorest of the poor and those severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The proposed 2021 national budget is a glaring evidence that Philippine health recovery is not a priority for the Duterte administration as only a tiny fraction of the 2021 budget will be allocated for health,” said Alminaza, adding that “amid economic hardships and massive unemployment, the poor needed not only charity but also justice.”
Ibon Foundation noted that the proposed budget still prioritizes infrastructure, debt, and militarization over social protection due to poor Filipinos affected by the dreaded virus. This includes how infrastructure projects will take 24 percent of the pie or about P1.1 trillion ($22.7 billion).
The Makabayan bloc, a group of progressive partylist lawmakers, voted against the national budget bill.
In her no-vote explanation, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago noted that in the middle of a pandemic, the Philippine government will still not heed the international recommendations to allot five percent of the budget for health care. Instead of providing and improving direct health services to the people, she said that the corruption-ridden PhilHealth will receive 34 percent of the total budget.
Public government hospitals, including those serving the front lines of the COVID-19 response, have also suffered budget cuts in their maintenance and other operating expenses.
Among these include a P150-million ($3.1 million) budget cut on the Philippine Children’s Medical Center and P12.9-million ($265,706) for the Lung Center of the Philippines.,
Elago said there is also not enough funds allotted to provide social protection for the poor, including a P1.3-billion ($26.8 million) budget cut for the Sustainable Livelihood Program and emergency employment for only 2.1 million Filipino workers. This she found unacceptable as at least 14 million Filipino workers have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and thousands of overseas Filipino workers who are set to be repatriated due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Castro said the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, is set to receive a budget of P19 billion ($391.4 million), which is 2,900 percent bigger than their last year’s appropriation. The military modernization program, on the other hand, will receive P8 billion ($164.8 million).
Teachers remain at risk
Among the frontliners who still need adequate budget requirements for 2021 are teachers.
Apart from their health concerns, Castro renewed her calls for the national government to heed teachers’ demands for higher teaching supplies allowance and adequate internet subsidy to cope with the new normal of the so-called blended mode of teaching amid the pandemic.
Castro noted how teachers are expected to deliver top-notch education but without budget provision for their needs, such as laptops, internet connection, flash drives, to name a few. This has left them no choice, “but to spend out of their own purses for the expenses for teaching such as for modules,” she added.