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Lacson proposes budget amendments

Panfilo Lacson
Senator Panfilo Lacson

SENATOR Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday bared details of proposed amendments to the P4.5-trillion 2021 budget bill to make sure it is responsive to the “sign of the times.”

Lacson said these proposed amendments include augmenting the budgets to ensure health, development and economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Also, Lacson said he is open to passing a special budget or special law like the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act to allow the President to realign funds to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.

“I want the budget to be responsive to the sign of the times. I want it to be responsive to the budget philosophy of Reset, Rebound, Recover. These are what we need for 2021. Not the multi-purpose buildings, not the double appropriations, not the right-of-way payments that cannot be accomplished anyway,” he said.

“First things first. We should first address the pandemic and its effects: Health issues, development, recovery of the economy. Those are what we need to address in the 2021 budget,” he added.

Among Lacson’s proposed amendments to the budget bill are:

* Deleting P63 billion from the budgets of the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ National Greening Program, and National Irrigation Administration, including:

– at least P60 billion from the DPWH for multi-purpose buildings except those to be used as evacuation and quarantine facilities, as well as double appropriations, right-of-way payments and also overlapping projects

– some P500 million from the NIA due to some implementation issues

Lacson proposed that the amount be realigned to other agencies and programs including:

* At least P20 billion for local government units in areas hit hard by recent typhoons, via the Assistance to Local Government Units-Local Government Support Fund (ALGU-LGSF). This includes assistance for evacuation centers and quarantine facilities, for livelihood, and for reconstruction.

* At least P12 billion for the Department of Information and Communications Technology, to at least start its P18-billion national broadband program, which will end government’s reliance on private telcos for internet, and result in P34 billion in savings in five years; and free wifi program.

* Additional budget for the flexible learning options of the Department of Education.

* Augmentation of at least P8 billion more for the Department of Health to implement the Universal Health Care program via the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP), which needs at least P13 billion.

Meanwhile, Lacson said they are open to passing a special budget or even a special law to ensure the government can procure vaccines for COVID-19.

“If we need to even pass a special budget for that or a special law like Bayanihan where the President can realign funds from some items for the purchase of the vaccines, we will do that,” he said.

But he clarified the P16.4-billion funds for the government’s anti-insurgency program will be needed for development projects – particularly in barangays cleared of insurgency activities.

“What will happen to those communities affected by conflict, if we will just abandon them without developing them? The people there will be open to recruitment by the NPAs again. So that is the wisdom I see in why we should retain the P16.4 billion… It’s not about combat operations,” he said, adding it is the Interior Department that will vet the items to be funded.

Besides, he said themajority of senators support retaining the amount.

Lacson also said that while he initially planned to have President Rodrigo Duterte’s confidential and intelligence funds reduced for 2021, he decided not to after learning from the police, military, and intelligence community that the President “would always augment whatever intelligence funds they would need to accomplish their mission.”