Press Release
November 11, 2020

Beyond rhetoric, 2021 budget must fund programs that can revive public confidence in health system, Drilon says
The minority leader urges Congress to to set the right priorities for next year as he laments a clear bias towards security apparatus

Given the magnitude of Covid-19 pandemic and the calamities besetting the country, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget should go beyond rhetoric and must shift its focus on reviving public confidence in the health system and strengthening the demand side of the economy to perk up household spending that suffered a contraction of 9.3 percent in the third quarter of 2020.

"Ushering our people safely to shore requires more than just a catchy theme, or rhetoric," Drilon said in a speech during the Senate's deliberation on the proposed P4.5-trillion Wednesday.

"We must increase the health budget, provide funds for the social amelioration program, address our looming housing crisis, where we need to build 6.4 million housing units, increase the education budget to support the shift to distance learning, provide for a broad job creation program that goes beyond rhetoric," he stressed.

A scrutiny of the budget, however, would still tend to show a bias favoring the security sector, he lamented.

"Overall, the budget does not provide for the level of livelihood support, economic assistance, and stimulus that one would expect in the face of this unprecedented crisis," he said.

He cited the measly budget of the Department of Health budget at P136.6 billion - lower than the P181 billion combined allocations under the 2020 GAA and the realignments from Bayanihan 1 and 2.

He also noted the lack of social amelioration program, a meager fund for Covid-19 vaccine at P8 billion and insufficient funds for livelihood, education and mobility programs.

"I agree with Sen. Angara. We can quantify the effects of the pandemic, but the suffering it has caused our people is beyond measure," he added.

"Filipinos are resilient. But let us not stretch them to their limits," he stressed, saying it is the time "to put our money where our mouth is."

"COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. We cannot, in good conscience, pass a business-as-usual budget. This extraordinary crisis requires a drastic shift in policies and priorities to ensure survival," Drilon said.

"The 2021 budget presents a golden opportunity to set the right priorities and policy thrusts. Let us not miss this opportunity. Because if we do, history will not be kind to us," he emphasized.

Low public confidence in health system

Drilon said while the committee's efforts to augment the health budget is laudable, the fund remains insufficient, especially when contrasted with the magnitude of the crises faced by the country today.

Drilon said this clearly affects the people's confidence in the health system and in the ability of the government to arrest the pandemic.

Drilon said the low household consumption is directly related to people's fear of contracting Covid-19 and the people's low confidence in the country's overall health system.

"Public confidence in our health systems, in our ability to combat the pandemic, is key to stimulating economic activity. Only when people are convinced that the threat of COVID-19 has subsided, will economic activity resume," Drilon stressed.

With the Philippines being a consumption-driven economy, Drilon expressed serious concerns about the weakened household consumption, which shrank by 9.3 percent in the last quarter.

He added: "Our Finance Committee Chairman is correct when he said that confidence in the economy is the hardest hit, and most in need of revival. He also cited ING Bank Manila economist Nicolas Mapa's statement that people remain hesitant to spend, especially with the virus still posing a risk to the broader public health scene.

The minority leader also believes that there is low household consumption because the majority of Filipinos do not have the money to spend. "Wala na pong pera ating mga kababayan."

2021 budget biased towards security sector, use P19-B anti insurgency funds to buy vaccines

The Senate chief fiscalizer thus questioned the "skewed'" priorities in the budget.

If we look at the broad set of priorities in both the NEP and the GAB, it appears that apart from infrastructure, the proposed budget for next year prioritizes the security sector, Drilon said.

"Parang mas mabigat po ang priority para sa ating security apparatus," he added.

Drilon said if this kind of prioritization stays, the country's recovery may take a while.

To achieve "reset, rebound and recovery" for next year, the government must let go of, or be willing to modify, pre-COVID spending priorities, according to Drilon.

"Can we not use the P19 billion anti-insurgency funds, especially that it is for the 822 cleared barangays, to purchase the vaccines? We ask: are our priorities correct? To correct the budget priorities is the solemn duty of this august chamber." Drilon suggested.

On Tuesday, the President announced that the government will borrow about P14.5 billion to purchase Covid- 19 vaccines.

But Drilon said while the government intends to borrow money for much-needed Covid-19 vaccines, the 2021 national budget appropriates P19 billion as anti-insurgency funds, and over P9 billion for intelligence and confidential programs.

He reiterated that the anti-insurgency funds can be used to buy Covid-19 vaccines and for other urgent programs.

He added that while the committee provided an additional P10 billion in unprogrammed funds for the purchase of the vaccine, he said its release is subject to excess revenues which will be hard to achieve given today's situation.

"Given this, it is clear that the additional standby fund for the vaccine is more apparent than real. An illusion," he added.

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