Senate committee adds vaccine, calamity funds to budget measure

THE Senate Finance Committee approved the chamber’s version of the P4.5-trillion 2021 budget bill with a hefty increase in vaccine funding, setting the stage for two weeks of deliberations with a target date of passage of Nov. 24.

The 2021 spending plan, according to the committee’s chairman, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, prioritizes health and disaster response spending in light of the coronavirus pandemic and calamities that have hit the country since the beginning of the year.

“As they say the new normal is not just COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), it’s also climate change, those I think are the top two (priorities),” he said at an online briefing, Tuesday.

“Both of these, the COVID-19 phenomenon of 2020, and climate change which has been with us for the last decade, are cross-cutting issues.”

The Senate resumed session on Monday, a week ahead of the House of Representatives, in a bid to get the work in to pass the budget, which goes to the bicameral conference committee after hurdling the chamber. The estimate for the bicameral session is between Nov. 26 and Dec. 1.

The committee report was also filed Tuesday.

According to Mr. Angara, the committee raised the funding for the implementation of a vaccine program for COVID-19 to P18 billion, from the P2.5 billion provided for under the National Expenditure Program proposed by the executive branch.

This is also higher than the P10 billion in the version approved by the House of Representatives. Mr. Angara noted the P10-billion allocation was unfunded, subject to government revenue performance.

“This means it will be funded, if the collections from the non-tax revenues exceed the targets and historically, na-e-exceed naman (the targets have been exceeded),” he said.

The committee also provided P16.6 billion for the employment of medical frontliners, P2.7 billion for purchasing personal protective equipment, and P4.8 billion for improving health facilities in poor communities.

Some P71.4 billion will be allocated to the National Health Insurance Program, which he said will come with safeguards amid a corruption scandal at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

A total of P113.8 billion will also be used to fund the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), which is targeted to provide aid to 4.4 million families.

The committee proposed to raise funding for calamity response via the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management fund and agencies’ quick response funds, to P27.25 billion, from P22.8 billion in 2020.

Mr. Angara added the panel pushed for the full resumption of the infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program to generate 1.1 million direct and indirect jobs, and maintained the P500 million funding for the resettlement program of the National Housing Authority. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

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