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Cheers! Rappler takes a long hard look at misplaced priorities in 2021 budget | CMFR

Cheers! Rappler takes a long hard look at misplaced priorities in 2021 budget

Screengrab from Rappler.com.

MEDIA HAVE faithfully followed the budget discussion in the HOR. But much of the reporting has been limited to accounts focused on the deliberations on the allocations for each agency, basically picking up quotes from concerned parties, failing to see the forest for the trees. In general, media have failed to note the grossly skewed appropriations in the budget for 2021.

CMFR cheers Rappler for its two-part story and its critical analysis of the priorities of the Duterte administration as the president moves into his last two years in office.

Gross misallocation

Rappler published its in-depth report on September 24 while lawmakers were scuffling over the HOR speakership. The brouhaha underlined how elected officials seem more concerned with power rather than the welfare of the people.

Aika Rey’s report ranked the amounts allocated for various agencies, noting that while the education sector comes first as mandated by the Constitution with  PHP800 billion, the administration’s centerpiece infrastructure program “Build, Build, Build” is a close second with PHP 748 billion. The third is the P519 billion for defense and public order.

The report underscored the gross deficit for the health sector, whose combined allocation of PHP 212 billion glaringly underestimates the rising health needs of Filipinos, especially when compared to the  departments favored by the president.

Breaking down the budget for public order and defense, Rappler’s account flagged the amount set aside for presidential confidential and intelligence funds as comprising the biggest slice of the pie at 63% of the total discretionary budget allocated for different agencies. Rappler stressed that almost three years since the president signed the resolution increasing the salaries of the police and the military in 2018, the budget for personnel services continues to take up a huge chunk of proposed funds for these agencies.

Rappler also noted that the budget of DPWH has skyrocketed to almost the P700-billion mark, from P458 billion in 2017 when the administration had its first full-year budget. In part one, the article referred to Sen. Panfilo Lacson who first called attention to certain errors in the budget, speculating that there must have been “a lot of haggling” between DPWH and legislators. Furthermore, despite the increase of funding for DOH programs, the budget for 2021 remains inadequate as these health frontline agencies may still be struggling against the COVID 19 virus and addressing its impact on the public health system.

Post-pandemic world

The article highlighted the need to look forward. Its second part on September 29 examined the budget in the light of needs that may arise in post-pandemic conditions. The tale of a jeepney driver who lost his livelihood in the lockdown, forcing his children to drop out of school, dramatizes the hardship of so many people. Sadly, the budget seems out of touch with reality as it lacks specific appropriations for dealing with the long-term impact of joblessness.

Rappler’s reality check notes the low administration awareness of the losses suffered by the people.

Although the government expects jobs to be restored in 2021, millions more will slide deeper into poverty. Even with experts projecting this outcome, the government’s proposed budget has no allocated funds to support an unconditional cash grant program for displaced workers, jeepney drivers and SMEs who will surely still be deprived of their normal earnings in the coming year.

The report also noted that while the education sector received the biggest share of the budget; again, the lack of foresight is obvious in the failure to provide more support to address the expected slide in learning that the pandemic has caused.

The same insufficiency afflicts the provisions for the agricultural sector. The DA had originally requested for a PHP 284-billion budget, it received only PHP 63.96 billion in the proposed budget. Citing research from economists from the Ateneo de Manila University, Rappler noted that every billion lives new investments in the agricultural sectors could potentially bring back 16,000 new jobs among the poor. The analysis shows up the budget as a betrayal of the so-called populist presidency. If you follow the money, you will find a policy that has not been particularly considerate of the needs of the poor. At its current state, the budget shows little care for the needs of the poor who have suffered the most from the pandemic.