President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday signed the country’s P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021, which seeks to revive the economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and improve the country’s response to the crisis.
Duterte said the General Appropriations Act "attests to the importance of an active and fruitful collaboration between the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, especially this time when the health and welfare of our people are at stake."
The social services sector accounts for the largest bulk of the spending plan, with P1.668 trillion or 37 percent of the national funds, said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
"The economic services sector, which includes the Administration’s flagship Build, Build, Build program, will receive the second highest allocation with P1,323.1 billion or 29.4 percent of the budget," the DBM said in a statement.
The infrastructure push "is expected to generate 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs and catalyze business activities all over the country," said the DBM.
"Meanwhile, the General Public Services sector will be allocated with P747.8 billion (16.6 percent), Debt Burden with P560.2 billion (12.4 percent), and Defense with P206.8 billion (4.6 percent)," it added.
House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco hailed what he described as President Rodrigo Duterte's historic signing of national spending package for next year, or the General Appropriations Act of 2021.
In a statement, Velasco said the money measure is an "all-important measure that will enable the government respond to and address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has severely damaged our economy and disrupted the lives of millions of Filipinos across the country."
"The P4.506-trillion national budget approved by Congress is the biggest by far and will better position the Philippines to beat the public health crisis and rise from its devastating effects. This is also a reflection of our government’s serious commitment and strong resolve to defeat the virus and bring the economy back on track," Velasco added.
Among the important features of this pandemic-responsive budget is the allocation of P72.5 billion for the purchase, storage, transportation, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Another P2 billion has been earmarked for the purchase of personal protective equipment or PPE to ensure that our health workers are safe as they carry out their duty of saving every patient from the virus.
"To our dear President, thank you for the timely signing and approval of the 2021 national budget. It is truly your desire to uplift the lives of our people especially during the pandemic. And to our colleagues in the House of Representatives and our counterparts in the Senate, thank you very much for your hard work and for putting together this milestone legislation in a timely manner," Velasco said.
Senator Sonny Angara said the country is now assured that the government will be operating on a new budget on January 1, 2021 that will pave the way for implementation of several key programs, particularly those that pertain to COVID-response.
Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, spelled out the government’s response to the pandemic to be fueled from the P4.5 trillion national budget for next year.
These are the following:
- the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines once they become available
- support for flexible/distance/blended learning
- strengthening the country’s health system
- assistance to indigent patients
- sustaining contact tracing efforts
- providing free wi-fi in public places and SUCs
- assistance to displaced workers
- social pension for indigents
- supplementary feeding program
- training for work scholarships and special training for employment
- implementation of the Philippine Innovation Act
- implementation of the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act
- speeding up the disposition of cases in the judiciary
- resettlement of residents displaced by calamities
- rehabilitation of areas affected by calamities
Angara said the 2021 national budget, together with the soon-to-be enacted extension of the validity of funds under the 2020 GAA and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act will provide the government with the tools needed to address the pandemic, help the people get back on their feet after losing their livelihood and their homes, and revive the economy as the country inches slowly towards recovery.
Among agencies, the following received the biggest slices of the budget, said the DBM.
- Department of Education, with P751.7 billion or 16.7 percent of the budget
- Department of Public Works and Highways, with P695.7 billion (15.4 percent)
- Department of the Interior and Local Government, with P249.3 billion (5.5 percent)
- Department of Health, with P210.2 billion (19.6 percent higher than its 2020 budget)
- Department of National Defense, with P205.8 billion
- Department of Social Welfare and Development, with P176.9 billion
- Department of Transportation, with P87.9 billion
- Department of Agriculture, with P71 billion
- Judiciary, with P45.3 billion
- Department of Labor and Employment with P37.1 billion
The budget includes P72.5 billion for the purchase, storage, transportation, and distribution of vaccines against COVID-19, said Duterte.
Other allocations for the health sector include the following, said the budget department.
P71.4 billion to subsidize the health insurance premiums of 13 million indigent families and 7 million senior citizens P16.6 billion for the deployment of doctors, nurses, and other health workers to disadvantaged communities and national hospitals P4.7 billion for the procurement of more than 2 million sets of personal protective equipment for hospitals, laboratories, and regional swab centers
P1.0 billion for the procurement of 861,720 GeneExpert cartridges for COVID-19 testing
P7.8 billion for health facilities
P283 million for the establishment of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines, which aims to undertake studies on novel, emerging and re-emerging viruses P51.56 million for disease surveillance and monitoring of COVID-19 and other similar respiratory infections
"As we look forward with hope for the coming year, let me assure the public that this administration will ensure the efficient use of resources through sound fiscal policy that will enable us to overcome the debilitating effects of the pandemic on public health and our economy," the President said.
"I cannot stress this enough: every centavo of this budget must be spent to ensure our nation’s recovery, resilience and sustainability."
“The prompt ratification of the 2021 national budget is a testament of our commitment to set aside divisive parties and politics," Duterte said.
“At this crucial juncture in our history, we can no longer afford to engage in politics of division, hate, and finger-pointing,” he added.
Delays in the passage of the national budget had forced the government to rely on a re-enacted spending plan for 4 months in 2019, and for a few days in 2020.
"The economy is set to bounce back after a historic slump this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and any delay in the passage of the budget would be akin to throwing a monkey wrench in the recovery process," said Angara.