The House of Representatives Makabayan Bloc has sought the realignment of P641.5 billion earmarked for security services in the proposed 2021 budget to “address urgent needs in health, education, and job creation.”
The lawmakers, who are nominees of party-list groups perceived to be left-leaning but who call themselves “progressive,” in a statement Wednesday claimed the P4.5 trillion national government budget for 2021 submitted by President Rodrigo Duterte to Congress “prioritizes spending for the military and (the) police, along with public works projects that are susceptible to corruption, despite the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic that originated from China.
In a 37-page document submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations, the bloc sought an additional P265.329 billion for health, P199.2 billion for economic stimulus, and P174.978 billion for education.
The budget realignments will be taken mainly from the “generals’ pork” of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the President, the Armed Force of the Philippines Modernization Program, the budget for PhilHealth, and lump sums in the Department of Public Works and Highways budget.
The additional funding for health sought by the legislators include the restoration of budget cut from government hospitals; free mass testing and treatment for COVID-19; free health services in all public hospitals; expansion of public health facilities; salary adjustments and additional for nurses; procurement of PPE; and local vaccine development. For education, they proposed additional maintenance and operating funds for public elementary and secondary schools; provision for devices and internet allowance for teachers; hiring of community teachers to aid in modular learning; additional funding for higher education and state universities and colleges.
To address the economic crisis aggravated by the pandemic, they proposed substantial funding for unemployment benefits; wage subsidies for MSMEs; aid for drivers of jeepneys and buses and OFWs; production subsidies for farmers and fisherfolk; and additional funds to purchase locally-produced rice.
The Makabayan Bloc also sought to amend the meaning of “savings” as the executive proposed to allow the President to realign, reallocate or reprogram any provision in the General Appropriations Act.
The lawmakers warned that with the insertion of such provision, the whole P4.5-trillion national budget can virtually be turned into the President’s pork barrel.
According to them, approval of this provision would be tantamount to Congress surrendering its "power of the purse" to the President.
The Makabayan Bloc is composed of Party-list Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Eufemia “Ka Femia” Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite of Bayan Muna, France Castro of ACT Teachers, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela and Sarah Elago of Kabataan.