Swiss-knife budget

September 12, 2019

It must be multi-functional, multi-purpose just like the easy-switch all-in-one tool from Switzerland.

The national budget is not only a simple spending plan although paying for all sorts of government bills is its basic purpose.

It is a socio-economic tool for broadly addressing human injuries, crop and property damage, livelihood security, industry stability, and even other clear and present dangers as well as potential threats to the health, safety, and well-being of citizens from whose taxes funding for the budget is raised.     

And so we absolutely agree with and support Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto in  calling for "budget sensitivity" to disasters, describing them as "a macro-economic assumption which should not be ignored".

Recto said calamities, manmade or natural, have the power to alter "the landscape of the national budget" because "appropriations can also be part of the first response in addition to being key to reconstruction".

"One powerful typhoon can blow away many elements of the budget," Recto said.  "

He made the comment as he called on both houses of Congress to look into the funding needs in addressing the "unfortunate developments in the agriculture and health fronts," which were not present when the 2020 national budget was being prepared in the Executive branch.

Among these "recent disruptions" are the discovery of African Swine Fever in domestic hogs, the low palay prices, the dengue epidemic and the warning raised on the possible resurgence of polio virus.

"Ang suggestion ko ay, at the very least, pag-aralan. Kung mayroon dapat pondohan, then let us create funding space by temporarily setting aside postponable projects," the senior senator said.

"We can augment the budget of the concerned agency. But if we do not want to disturb the programmed portion of next year's P4.1 trillion spending spread, then we can authorize funding in the Unprogrammed Fund," he said.

Recto had earlier called on the government to ready "a financial lifeline to hog producers" whose stocks will be culled, pursuant to protocols on how to contain the spread of ASF.

"We should brace for the financial fallout, and ready the assistance, if the worst-case scenario will hit hard this P220 billion a year industry," the former Socio-economic Planning chief said.

He said another farm sector concern which must be responded to are the low palay prices.

"The proposal for direct financial aid via the conditional cash transfer mechanism of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, but this one targeting rice farmers and rice farm workers, should now be seriously pursued," he said.

"We should now open a new conduit in helping farmers, and that is the via DSWD route, which is faster and more efficient. Whatever the cost of this direct-to-the-farmer's-pocket kind of help should be included in the 2020 national budget," Recto said.

He stressed that he spike in dengue cases, and the fact that from being seasonal, it is now a year-round occurrence, should prod some adjustments in the health budget.

But then again, they don’t call it the “General Appropriations Act for nothing.

In this sense, the GAA could also be read as “all in, everything on top” --that is, even funding for unexpected or unpredictable eventualities.