HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Thursday vowed transparency on the deliberations of President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte’s proposed P4.506 trillion 2021 national budget to reset and rebound the economy from months of devastation caused by the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, said lawmakers will go the extra mile in performing their mandate to ensure the timely passage of the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
He assured a thorough scrutiny of the National Expenditure Program (NEP) despite the new normal setup where virtual hearings are conducted via Zoom.
“We will go through the very transparent process of budget deliberations to fully discuss its merits and main objective to serve the people,” said Romualdez. “We are going to scrutinize the national budget and do our jobs properly.”
He said it is expected that “social and economic services will get the biggest chunk of the national budget where lawmakers will guarantee that effective utilization and honest spending of the national budget will result to real benefits of the people in this time of COVID-19 pandemic.”
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano also assured that the deliberations for the 2021 national budget will be very transparent and that all the members of the opposition will be given ample time to ask their questions directly to the agencies.
In his short remarks during the ceremonial handover of the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for 2021 with the theme of “Reset, Rebound, and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability” by Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado on August 25, Cayetano stressed that he wants the 2021 budget to be “a product of the whole Congress, the whole representation of the Filipino people, and not just of the administration.”
Calling on his colleagues for support, Cayetano said the House of Representatives targets to finish the budget deliberations and approve the GAB before the end of September so it can be sent to the Senate right away.
“So while we’re implementing Bayanihan 2, this… September, October, November, December, we will try to finish the budget before the end of September, a very ambitious schedule. Then we will send it right away to the Senate, because we hope that, for the first time, if I’m not mistaken, in history, Secretary Wendel, we can sign the budget maybe
late November or mid-November as a sign of unity by our country,” Cayetano said, addressing Avisado.
He also cited five key infrastructure programs that should be prioritized, namely mass transportation, digital infrastructure, health-related facilities, tourism, and agriculture.
However, Cayetano noted that the needs of the front-liners in the delivery of social and medical services will continue to be given adequate support amidst the current public health crisis.
Meanwhile, Cayetano issued a “fair warning” to the departments that have made it difficult for constituents in the past year, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, and reiterated the President’s warning that this administration does not tolerate corruption and inefficiency in the performance of their duties and the use of government funds.
“If we find out that you’re offline, if we find out na hindi kayo maabot nung constituents, delayed sa inyo, nag-online nga kayo, hindi naman makarating, nagla-lockdown kayo nang napakatagal, na-delay ‘yung inyong mga serbisyo, don’t expect a smooth budget hearing or a good budget next year,” Cayetano said.
He also underscored the importance of accountability of the departments and continuous vigilance among the lawmakers in ensuring that the funds are properly utilized.
“Dyan papasok ang pagbabantay. Meaning, kung maganda project, ilalagay nang ilalagay namin dito, kahit na may opportunity for corruption. Babantayan lang natin na mawala ang opportunity for corruption,” he said.
The 2021 national budget is higher than this year’s budget by 9.9 percent and equivalent to 21.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said every peso of the P4.506 trillion national expenditures program (NEP) went through numerous budget hearings and consultations with the agencies.
Personnel Services will corner the bulk of the 2021 NEP at 29.2 percent, reaching P1.32 trillion.
This level considers the huge additional hiring of health workers under the Human Resource for Health Program of the Department of Health (DOH), the second tranche implementation of the Salary Standardization Law of 2019, and the increased pension requirements of military and uniformed personnel.
Capital Outlays will come in second with P920.5 billion, accounting for 20.4 percent of the proposed budget and growing by 12.9 percent.
The increase in capital outlays from this year’s budget is owed mainly to the increase in infrastructure programs of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) by 14.7 percent and Department of Transportation (DOTr) by 42.6 percent).
Meanwhile, maintenance, operating and and other expenditures will amount to P699.4 billion, debt burden with P560.2 billion, support to government-owned and – controlled corporations with P157.5 billion, and tax expenditures with P14.5 billion.
The 2021 NEP remains anchored on the administrations key priorities to help the country recover quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hence, the bulk of next year’s proposed budget will be provided to the social services sector amounting to P1.664 trillion, equivalent to 36.9 percent.
This includes funding support for programs related to health, social protection, and education. The economic services sector will receive the second highest allocation with P1.347 trillion or 29.9 percent of the proposed budget.
Meanwhile, the General Public Services sector will be allocated with P724.2 billion, Debt Burden with P560.2 billion, and Defense with P210.6 billion.
Top 10 departments
The Department of Education (DepEd), including State Universities and Colleges, the Commission on Higher Education, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, remains the top agency with the biggest slice from the proposed budget, with an allocation of P754.4 billion. This will support the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (P47.1 billion) and the development, reproduction and delivery of learning resources for the implementation of the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan Program or BELCP (P16.1 billion), among many others.
This is followed by DPWH with a proposed budget of P667.3 billion, the Department of Interior and Local Government with P246.1 billion, the Department of National Defense with P209.1 billion, the DOH with P203.1 billion, the Department of Social Welfare and Development with P171.2 billion, the DOTr with P143.6 billion, the Department of Agriculture with P66.4 billion, the Judiciary with P43.5 billion, and the Department of Labor and Employment with P27.5 billion.
Summing up to P2.564 trillion, the budget of these top ten departments accounts for 56.9 percent of the proposed budget, and 86.9 percent of the total proposed budget for National Government Agencies.
The 2021 NEP will prioritize health-related COVID-19 response programs to address the continuing threat of the pandemic.
Hence, budgetary support will be provided for the National Health Insurance Program (P71.4 billion), Medical Assistance to Indigent Patients (P17.3 billion), and Human Resources for Health Program (P16.6 billion), among others.
Around P6.1 billion will be allocated for the upgrading of equipment, laboratories and isolation facilities in the different regions, and some P2.7 billion will be set aside for the provision of personal protective equipment to DoH hospitals, laboratories, and centers.
Meanwhile, an initial P2.5 billion and P283.5 million will be provided for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine and the establishment of a Virology Center, respectively.