By Edu Punay, October 28, 2020; The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives transmitted to the Senate yesterday its approved General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for next year.

The submission of the GAB, which came a day earlier than the Oct. 28 commitment of the House leadership, would give the Senate ample time to thoroughly deliberate on the 2021 budget.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco assured the Senate that the House-approved budget will support the government’s coronavirus pandemic response programs.

“This record-high budget was designed to further strengthen government response and stimulate economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said in a statement.

“Not only did we pass the proposed 2021 national budget in a timely, constitutional and legal manner, we also made sure next year’s spending plan will be more reflective and responsive to the needs of the people amid the worst public health crisis in a generation,” the Speaker pointed out.

The Marinduque congressman also gave assurance that the GAB is “constitutional and legal” amid questions raised by some senators on the P20-billion institutional amendments made by the House special committee after the passage of the measure last Oct. 16.

“We increased the allocation for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines by more than three-fold to cover more Filipinos. We also provided extra allocation for the facilities enhancement program of the Department of Health to help improve the country’s health care system,” he explained.

The chamber increased the funding for COVID-19 vaccine purchase from P2.5 billion under the Department of Health (DOH) as proposed by the executive to P8 billion, or by P5.5 billion.

“The House-approved version of the budget also has additional funding for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to aid workers displaced by COVID-19 and for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for another round of financial assistance to families affected by the pandemic,” Velasco also said.

The Speaker was referring to the P6-billion increase in the budgets of DOLE and DSWD to cover financial assistance for workers and poor families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, the small committee added P4 billion to DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Displaced/Disadvantaged Workers (TUPAD) program, increasing its appropriation from P9.9 billion to about P14 billion.

Lawmakers explained that the TUPAD budget for 2021 is not sufficient to extend assistance to unemployed Filipinos, who as of July 2020 numbered about 4.6 million based on the Labor Force Survey.

They explained that if beneficiaries would be given P5,000 each, the P9.9-billion allocation would be able to serve two million workers or less than half of the displaced workers.

The panel also added P2 billion to DSWD’s budget for pandemic assistance to continue the social amelioration program (SAP) under Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws.

These are among the institutional amendments worth P20 billion in the proposed national budget for 2021 approved by the chamber’s small committee tasked to consolidate the pre-approved amendments to the General Appropriations Bill prior to submission to the Senate and printing.

The amendments also included the addition of another P2 billion to DOH for facilities enhancement program, P2 billion to the Department of the Interior and Local Government to fund the purchase of police mobility assets, P2 billion to the Armed Forces of the Philippines for procurement of C-130 planes, P1.7 billion for the Department of Education to support internet connectivity of teachers, P500 million for the Energy Regulatory Commission and Philippine National Oil Co. and P300 million as additional funding for DOH’s mental health program.