MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has received from Congress the P4.5-trillion budget for 2021, which includes allocations for the procurement of medicines and vaccines against COVID-19.

The Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea yesterday confirmed to reporters that the national budget had been transmitted to the Office of the President (OP).

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President may sign the budget either on Dec. 23 or 28.

Roque said the OP will review every line and provision in the national budget, and that the President may exercise his line veto powers if necessary.

According to Roque, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado has given assurance that the national budget would be signed before the end of the year. This means that the government will work on a new budget by Jan. 1.

The House of Representatives sent the budget to Malacañang after they finished printing the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco signed the final copy of the GAA last Thursday and will send it to Malacañang after Senate President Vicente Sotto III signs the document.

He stressed that the timely passage of the 2021 budget by Congress would enable Duterte to sign it before Christmas and prevent a reenacted budget like in 2019 that had taken a heavy toll on the economy.

“This 2021 spending plan is the government’s single most powerful tool to fight COVID-19 and help Filipinos and the economy recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic,” the Marinduque congressman explained.

House appropriations committee chair ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap and House secretary general Mark Llandro Mendoza witnessed the signing of the printed copy of the 2021 GAA.

Yap earlier revealed that several institutional amendments were made in the final version of the budget approved by the bicameral conference committee hours before the ratification by both House and Senate last week.

He said the bicam panel, which he co-chaired, has increased to P70 billion the appropriation for purchase, storage, transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

In the earlier version of the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) passed by both House and the Senate, only P8 billion was allocated for purchase of the vaccines under the budget of Department of Health (DOH) for next year, while no appropriation was given for their storage, transportation and distribution.

Apart from this, Yap said the bicam committee also added P2 billion for the procurement of personal protective equipment or PPE, P434.4 million for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program, P462 million for the Medical Health Assistance Program and P100 million for the mental health program, all under the DOH.

He further revealed that the bicam panel also approved several other changes in the GAB introduced by the House contingent, including the additional funding of P44.8 billion for the administration’s flagship Build, Build, Build program under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Yap explained that they added infrastructure projects in provinces and towns ravaged by Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses last October and November.

He said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also received a budget augmentation of P3.177 billion, a majority of which is for the Office of the Secretary’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged or Displaced Workers Program or TUPAD.

Yap said the bicam also increased the budget for Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (LEEP) and the Government Internship Program (GIP) by P5.09 billion, bringing its total to P19 billion.

The TUPAD, LEEP and GIP are government’s social amelioration programs for workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bicam likewise allotted P1.6 billion to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for its alternative family care program, which is designed to provide protective services for individuals, families and communities in difficult circumstances.

185 bills

Meanwhile, Velasco revealed that the House was able to process 185 bills in just three months despite the coronavirus pandemic and the speakership squabble.

“We’re still here, fighting and working. After all that we’ve been through, I could truly say we are a stronger House,” the Speaker stressed in his yearend report delivered to the plenary on the last day of session for this year last Wednesday.

Velasco bared that from the time he assumed office in October, the House already processed 185 bills, including seven that have become laws and 20 more measures to be signed by the President.

He lauded fellow congressmen for remaining steadfast in serving the Filipino people amid the health crisis and consecutive typhoons that hit the country.

Velasco urged his colleagues to still push through and celebrate small triumphs in this season of hope, compassion and charity.

“We can never get tired. Being tired is a small price to pay in a country that has felt the brunt of climate change and yet refuses to bow down. This is a proud country and people. It is our humble privilege to ease the burden of our countrymen,” he said.

The House adjourned session on Dec. 16 and will resume on Jan. 18.

Workers affected by the disruptions caused by the pandemic would continue to receive assistance from DOLE next year as a result of the interventions made by Congress in the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, Sen. Sonny Angara said yesterday.

Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, said the lawmakers agreed the workers affected by the pandemic should continue to receive some form of assistance from the government in 2021 because many of them are still without jobs.

“Many of our countrymen are still without jobs so augmented the funds of DOLE” for TUPAD and the GIP, the senator said.

For the two programs, he said the budget was nearly doubled from P9.93 billion under the National Expenditure Program to P19.036 billion in the final version of the GAB.

TUPAD is a community-based package of assistance that provides emergency employment for displaced workers, underemployed and seasonal workers, for a minimum period of 10 days but not to exceed a maximum of 30 days, depending on the nature of work to be performed.

GIP, on the other hand, aims to provide opportunities and engage young workers to serve the general public in government agencies/entities in projects and programs at the national and local level.

The economy is in the early stages of opening up again after months of little to no activity because of restrictions imposed under community quarantine.

Unemployment hit a peak of 17.6 percent in April before improving to 10 percent in July and to 8.7 percent in October. The October unemployment rate is equivalent to 3.8 million Filipinos without jobs or livelihood.

Also receiving an increase in budget under DOLE is the Adjustment Measures Program (AMP), from P391.61 million under the NEP to P491.62 million in the GAB.

The DOLE-AMP is a nationwide safety net program that provides a package of assistance and other forms of interventions as a means of helping individuals/workers and companies, particularly the distressed, in coping with economic and social disruptions. – Paolo Romero

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