President Rodrigo Duterte is pitching to Congress his P4.5-trillion budget proposal as an opportunity to "reset, rebound and recover" from the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the lives of millions on pause and sank the economy into recession at the cost of millions of jobs.
The 75-year-old leader said the 2021 national budget would put the country "back on the road" and reverse the economic contraction this year to a growth of 6.5 to 7.5% next year. Every year as the president submits the national budget to Congress, an accompanying budget message summarizes the executive's priorities. This year, it's the pandemic.
Duterte laid out four spending priorities to turn the economy around: P212.4 billion to upgrade health infrastructure, P1.11 trillion for instracture (equivalent to 5.4% of the economy), P117.8 billion to modernize agriculture and ensure food security, and P2.3 billion to upskill small and medium businesses.
"My task and yours at this moment of our history, is to get us back on the road," the President said. "Now more than ever, the government must assert its role in responding to the threats of this virus and its fallout if it is to make the nation and its economy stronger and more agile."
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The country has been under some form of quarantine for five and a half months, with the current ones up for review and good only until Aug. 31. In Metro Manila, home to a tenth of the population and which accounts for a third of economic output, a strict GCQ is in force meaning additional precautions such as face shields and quarantine passes.
The 16.5% contraction in GDP in the second quarter was the steepest drop in output since 1981. In April, the government reported a record high unemployment rate of 17.7 percent, which padded the total number of jobless Filipinos to 7.3 million. Updated data is due out on Sept. 4.
The proposed 2021 budget is 9.9% higher than the P4.1 trillion set this year. To add ammunition the fight against COVID-19 this year, a second Bayanihan law was passed by both the Senate and the House and is awaiting the President's signature.
"We will have to reset our policies, rethink the way we govern under this new phenomenon that is changing the conduct of daily life, rebound and recover from this pandemic and bring the whole country and our people with us," Duterte said.