Press Release
August 25, 2021

Booster shots? Palace seeks standby P45B in '22 budget

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto welcomed the administration's request for standby authority to buy as much as P45.4 billion worth of vaccine booster shots, should the same be needed next year.

Recto said the amount is part of the P151.6 billion in unprogrammed funds in the proposed 2022 national budget.

Unprogrammed appropriations are over and above the total amount for new appropriations in the national budget.

Partaking the nature of conditional expenditures, items in the unprogrammed appropriations will be funded by new or excess revenue collections or approved loans.

He explained that whether an item is in the programmed or unprogrammed portion of the General Appropriations Act, "the authority to spend is granted by Congress, subject to conditions."

"Ang bottomline ay may authority na bumili ng vaccine booster shots at ang pangkalahatang halaga ay tukoy sa national budget," he said.

The P45.4 billion fund for booster shots is on top of the P30 billion earmarked for "drugs, medicines, vaccines" in the P157 billion Department of Health budget for 2022, Recto said.

Recto, however, admits that Congress retains the right to move a portion or the entire proposed appropriations for booster shots to the programmed appropriations.

"But that is easier said than done, because you will have to displace projects and programs worth P45.4 billion to create the budget space for booster shots," Recto said.

He said the pandemic's "huge footprint" on the 2022 national budget proves that the "micro COVID virus" is the biggest macroeconomic assumption of next year's spending program.

"The behavior of the virus, the direction the pandemic is heading, affects how we spend public funds," Recto said.

He said the many unknowns on the future of COVID-19 has in turn created a lot of imponderables on the budget.

"Halimbawa nga yung booster shots. Magkano ang gastusin sa karagdagang bakuna na bibilhin? Ilang bilyong piso sa dagdag na Sinovac, Pfizer, Moderna, etc, shots?" he said.

"We may be able to run the numbers, but exactly how much money in the 2022 budget are we going to commit? There are no easy answers to that. There is no crystal ball that will tell us what variants will arise and how virulent they will be," he said.

Recto believes this year's budget debates in Congress should respond to late-breaking developments on the pandemic front.

"Kung merong masamang bagong developments bandang Disyembre, then financing the government response should find its way to the budget before it is sent to the President for his signature," Recto said.

If by some quirk of nature this virus suddenly evaporates, then we must also be adept in reconfiguring the budget, Recto said.

"As the virus mutates, government response must change too, and this includes spending priorities," he said.

And if some scientists' prediction that the "pandemic becomes endemic, like a flu" will come true, then adaptation measures become embedded in the annual budget.

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