The 2022 national budget is not responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Nancy Binay said Sunday, noting there were no funds set aside for cash assistance or contract tracing in the proposed P5.024 trillion spending plan.
“Did somebody ask the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) why there is no budget for contact tracing?” Binay asked.
The senator’s question came as the administration sought to justify spending more than P28 billion on an its flagship anti-communist program.
During a hearing of the Senate committee on finance, Binay said the DILG should have given more focus on contact tracing efforts as a means to effectively stop the further spread of COVID-19.
“We understand the challenges, but there’s a mounting necessity to scale up our contact tracing capacities,” she said.
She said contact tracing is crucial, especially as infections caused by new COVID variants are on the rise.
“The 2022 budget itself is not compliant with the COVID response,” she said.
“I cannot accept that the DILG and DOH (Department of Health) have no systematic plans or even the slightest effort to kickstart or scale up contract tracing,” Binay said.
She said it was no surprise that after more than a year, the country still lags when it comes to contact tracing and testing.
Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., defended the P28.1 billion allocated to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NFT-ELCAC), saying the agency had no control over the budget of the Barangay Development Program, which seeks to develop villages that have been cleared of communist rebels.
In budget deliberations, Esperon, also NTF-ELCAC vice chairman, said the funds would be distributed to different departments tasked to implement projects such as farm-to-market roads, school buildings and livelihood projects.
“The NTF-ELCAC does not, in any circumstances, control nor manipulate the funds appropriated for the BDP. Rather, the NTF-ELCAC is responsible for harmonizing and coordinating the efforts both on the national and local level,” he said.
Under the proposed 2022 national budget, the BDP, a flagship project of the Duterte administration, would get P28.1 billion or P11.66 billion higher than 2021’s budget.
The NTF-ELCAC’ main role is not to control the funds but to continuously inspect and monitor the implementation of the projects in the barangays, Esperon said.
“I take this opportunity to clarify that in no manner has there been preferential treatment as to the identification of barangay recipients. To be specific, Mindanao has the greatest number of cleared barangays from 2016-2019,” he said.
He denied allegations that the BDP was just an avenue for corruption, saying there were measures in place to protect the program.
Esperon said the Department of the Interior and Local Government is directed to monitor and evaluate BDP projects.