Senate Retools 2022 National Budget to Focus on COVID Recovery

Some P100 billion in amendments are introduced.
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The Senate has introduced more than P100 billion-worth of amendments in the proposed P5.02 trillion national budget for 2022 to help the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the leads in the deliberations said Tuesday.

Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, is set to sponsor the budget bill in the Senate plenary, kicking off marathon debates that are expected to last until the end of November.

"It's a COVID recovery budget. I say that because a lot of the interventions were really dictated by COVID," Angara told reporters.

According to Angara, the Senate added around P91 billion to the budget of the Department of Health and PhilHealth, which include P51 billion for the special risk allowance of health workers.

An additional P16 billion was also allocated to procure COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots for a total of P60 billion.

The Senate also increased the budget for provincial and major hospitals including the Philippine General Hospital, specialized health facilities which help in tracing COVID-19 variants, as well as for testing and contact tracing efforts of the government.

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All in all, the budget allotted for the health sector following the amendments of the Senate is now at P312 billion.

Aside from health interventions, the Senate also introduced additional budgets for public schools and universities to help them retrofit their facilities for face-to-face classes.

For vulnerable sectors, the chamber also added more funds to the Department of Labor and Employment to provide jobs to those who lost their livelihood, and to the Department of Social Welfare and Development to give assistance to the poor.

Fuel subsidies will also be given to jeepney drivers and farmers who were affected by the recent oil price hikes.

Some of the funds were reallocated from the budget of the government's anti-communist task force NTF-ELCAC, where at least P20 billion was slashed from their proposed budget of P28 billion. Th body failed to provide the Senate with a breakdown of how they utilized their budget this year.

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"Sa tingin ng mga senador, mas importante yung mga health interventions this year. Hindi lang naman exclusive sa NTF-ELCAC yan," Angara said.

Other agencies whose budgets were reduced by the Senate in favor of health programs include the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Transportation.

"Yung ibang infrastructure projects, imbes na gawing in total, pine-phase yan. So we can make room for all of these health interventions," Angara said.

Angara said the Senate was targeting to finish the budget deliberations in two weeks and approve it on third reading by Nov. 25. The bicameral conference committee meeting would proceed the following week, with the ratification expected by the second week of December.


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