House eyes budget for COVID-19 vaccine purchase

Alan Peter Cayetano

THE House of Representatives will allocate funds in next year’s budget for the procurement of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announced this plan as the House committee on appropriations start to draft the proposed national budget for 2021.

In an interview, Cayetano said he considers the P4.3-trillion budget the administration plans to submit to Congress as very conservative.

Cayetano said the House wants the government to be prepared for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

“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,” Cayetano said.

“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,” he added.

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.”

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

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

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.

He said the Bayanihan 2 law would allocate up to P200 billion for recovery programs and projects.

He alerted his colleagues to a possible call by the President for Congress to hold 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.

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.