MANILA—Tagged COVID-19 response budget, the House of Representatives approved on Friday night the P4.506T 2021 general appropriation bill (GAB) with P2.5B allotted for the purchase of vaccines, a lawmaker revealed on Saturday (October 17).
Marikina City Second District Rep. Stella Quimbo, a member of House small committee authorized to accept budget amendments, told DZRH Special On Saturday (SOS) program host Cesar Chavez that the P2.5B budget for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines will cover only about 3.9 million Filipinos, way behind President Duterte’s 20 million Filipinos targeted for vaccination.
“Tila napakababa ang linaan na budget sa bakuna na alam naman natin na permanenting solusyon sa pagkalat ng COVID. And P2.5B ang nakalaan po at kapag i-divide po natin yan sa cost which is P641, ang lalabas ho 3.9 Filipinos lang ang mababakunahan ng libre. So, ito po ay taliwas doon pananalita ng ating Pangulo na nagsabi ng 20 million ang kanyang sinabi na dapat mabakunahan,” Quimbo said.
(The budget allocated seems too low for the vaccine that we know is the permanent solution to COVID. And the P2.5B that have been set when divided to the cost which is P641, it turns out that only 3.9 Filipinos are to be vaccinated for free. So, this is against the statement of our President who said that 20 million must be vaccinated.)
She added that the President even claimed to eventually vaccinate all Filipinos.
Quimbo said she will push the increase of the budget allocated for the vaccine from P2.5B to P12.82B in the House small committee, in order to inoculate 20 million Filipinos with COVID-19 vaccine.
She explained that the approval of GAB will take several days of printing before this can be transmitted to the Senate and while the copies of GAB are being printed, the House small committee makes amendments based on the requests of House representatives, even though the total approved amount remains.
Quimbo said she is optimistic she can convince the members of the House small committee to approve some P8.3B additional budget for vaccines, even though she expects that the House representatives will also push for their respective increases in their allocations.
She said the job of the House small committee is very difficult and the process they will follow is addition-subtraction on the specific items enlisted in the GAB.
“May mga ahensya na talagang laging may natitirang savings every year. Ibig sabihin hindi sila magaling mag-absorb o paggatos ng kanilang pera, e baka naman pwedeng bawasan ng kaunti, di ba? Pwede pong tabasan iyong mga hirap gumastos, kaysa naman po ma-stranded ang mga pondo nay an,” Quimbo said.
(There are agencies that always have savings every year. This means they were not good absorbing or spending their money, maybe we can deduct a little, isn’t it? We can shave from those having difficulty spending, instead of the funds being stranded.)
She said the very low budget for COVID-19 vaccine was the result of the trouble in the term-sharing agreement that delayed the hearing of the Department of Health’s budget so that there was no more time to scrutinize the vaccine budget and file a proposal to increase it then deliberated in the plenary session.
“Ang ending po niyan, ay talagang aasahan natin sa small committee magkakaroon ng deliberation at titingnan natin kung makokombinsi natin na taasan yan. Pero sa tingin ko po, this is basic at hindi ako mahihirapan sa ating kasama na talagang taasan,” Quimbo said.
(The end to this, is we will really rely on the small committee to have deliberation and we will see if we can convince them to increase that. But in my view, this is basic and I will not have difficulty for our colleagues to really increase.)
She explains that since the pandemic has brought down the economy and so many businesses have closed, it is only the government that can spend to keep it running
Quimbo, a former economics professor at the University of the Philippines, further explained that what must be prioritized in the GAB are those with “high multiplier effect” or items that create more employment when implemented like infrastructure.
“Mismo ang NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) ang nagsabi na ang multiplier effect ng infrastructure is between 3 to 4. In other words, sa kada piso na ilalaan mo sa kada infrastructure project, dahil dami ang na-eempleyo na mga construction workers, and ending po niyan, ang epekto ng piso po yan sa GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is P3 to P4 na dagdag,” she said.
(The NEDA itself said that the multiplier effect of infrastructure is between 3 to 4. In other words, in every peso allocated in every infrastructure project, because it employs a lot of construction workers, the ending of that, the effect on a peso in GDP is P3 to P4 in increase.)
She said the projects that must not be prioritized are those that are hard to implement because there are obstacles to its implementation and project with low multiplier effect.
Quimbo revealed that the budget for “flexible learning” of the Department of Education has been increased substantially to P15B from the very minimal amount previously allocated for this purpose.
She disclosed that for the 2020 national budget some P2.6T have not been spent yet while there are items ready for implementation like the disbursement of allowances to government’s college scholars worth P3.6B of which each student is given a P1,000 monthly allowance or a total of P12,000 a year under the “Tulong Dunong Program,” which could had been used as Internet allowance.
Quimbo said the Department of Budget and Management promised to release the funds after the Commission on Higher Education submitted their request to disburse the funds.