2021 budget to allocate funds for COVID-19 vaccine

THE House of Representatives will allocate funds in the proposed 2021  national budget for the procurement of coronavirus disease-19  (COVID)-19 vaccine, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday.

Cayetano told reporters that he considers the P4.3-trillion budget the  administration plans to submit to Congress as very conservative.

“We know they are being cautious about the deficit, but funds should  already be allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine. And we can label it as  COVID-related programs so that if the vaccine is not yet available,  they can use the money for testing or procurement of medical supplies. They won’t have to go back to Congress for additional appropriation,”  said Cayetano.

“What if there is a vaccine and they won’t supply unless you pay at  once? So the funds should already be available in the budget,” said  Cayetano.

Several countries are expecting to develop a vaccine in about a year.

Cayetano said he and his House colleagues “want to enter 2021 fully  aware that the country has to meet the challenges of COVID-19  head-on.”

He said aside from vaccine funds, the House would include in next  year’s budget economic stimulus appropriations to help affected  sectors recover from the pandemic.

“We’re already talking about what part of the 2021 budget is stimulus  as well,” he added.

Such appropriations would be in addition to those that would be  contained in Bayanihan 2 or the planned We Recover as One Law, he  added.

The Speaker revealed that the House, together with the Senate, and the  Department of Finance are now close to agreeing on the final version  of the proposed legislation.

“I think 80-90 percent we’ve gone over it and we already have some  consensus,” he said.

The Speaker added the Bayanihan 2 law would allocate up to P200 billion for  recovery programs and projects.

Cayetano alerted his colleagues on a possible call by President Rodrigo Duterte for Congress to convene in a special session during the current recess to approve the proposed law.

Bayanihan 2 would include loans for small and medium businesses, and funds for the procurement of more testing and medical supplies, and  for tourism, he said.

Part of the money would also go to the requirements of the new-normal  blended learning program of the Department of Education (DepEd), he  added.

Cayetano stressed that while Bayanihan 1 or the We Heal as One Law was  very general and broad in its language, the House wants Bayanihan 2 to be more detailed.

“For example, we don’t want to allocate funds for tourism in general.

We want to be more specific. Is the money for facilities,  infrastructure, or is it for training of tourist guides? But we are  also discussing some flexibility for the executive branch,” he said.

In the case of DepEd, he said the discussions are focused on what  public schools would require when they reopen without face-to-face  classes, and on realigning funds for school buildings and supplies to  fund the new requirements like computer devices.