Budget disconnect | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Budget disconnect

/ 05:03 AM August 28, 2022

The government will “ensure the unimpeded and adequate delivery of social services such as health, education and social protection,” President Marcos Jr. said in his message to lawmakers when his administration’s proposed P5.268-trillion budget for 2023 was submitted to Congress last week. Yet in the proposed allocations for the different agencies for the coming year, the budgets of the University of the Philippines (UP) System and the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) will be cut by P3.3 billion. Based on the P5.268-trillion proposed national budget for 2023, UP will get P23.1 billion, P2.5 billion less than its current P25.6-billion budget, while PGH will receive P5.41 billion, down by P893 million from this year’s P6.3 billion.

The disconnect did not escape the attention of some legislators. Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez immediately called on the President, Congress, and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to restore the reduction. “We should be increasing the budgetary allocations of state universities and colleges, which are the poor student’s schools of choice, and government hospitals, which are the pauper’s go-to health facilities, instead of reducing their funds,” Rodriguez pointed out. He cautioned the government against “sending the wrong message if it insists on cutting funding for the UP System and PGH,” considering that state-owned schools need funds to accept more indigent students, while government hospitals need more money to treat poor patients.

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While it’s true that the Marcos Jr. administration is forced to judiciously spend the little funding that will be available next year, its priorities should not leave affordable college education and health care—especially for the poor—behind. The government is financially constrained because of its heavy debt burden. It has to spend P1.6 trillion in 2023 to repay debts that piled up as the previous administration took out massive loans to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be the highest yearly debt servicing on record.

The allocations for other sectors tie in with the overall goal of the proposed budget, which the President said in his budget message “is to reinvigorate job creation and reduce poverty by steering the economy back to its high growth path.” Thus, the top economic priorities: education will get P852.8 billion (which critics complain is still not enough); public works and highways, P718.4 billion, and energy, P476 billion. On the other hand, health, despite the pandemic, will get only P296.3 billion; social welfare and development, with the tens of thousands of families pushed into poverty by the health crisis, will receive a smaller P197 billion; agriculture, the focus of attention of the President (who assigned himself as acting secretary), will get P184.1 billion, and transportation, beset with the numerous problems hounding the public transport system, will receive P167.1 billion.

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Shouldn’t the government give more funding to the health sector, considering that the COVID-19 crisis is still here; to transportation, given the commuting crisis we have, and to agriculture, with the current shortages in basic food items from rice to sugar and lately even salt? The Department of Health (DOH) has already served notice that it will ask for additional funding for the emergency benefits and allowances of health care workers under the proposed 2023 budget after some P57 million was cut for this program. “We will appeal to the Congress if they could add more [funding] so we could continue to provide benefits for our health workers,” DOH officer in charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire said.

The good news is that there is still time and there are available means to recast the budget numbers. For instance, Rodriguez suggested that the DBM can restore the slashed amounts by sending a budget erratum or errata to the House of Representatives. “They did that in the past. It is they who could easily make the necessary adjustments,” Rodriguez noted. House appropriations committee vice chair Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo agrees, pointing out that the reduced allocations for the UP System and PGH can still be remedied during House budget deliberations. Many congressmen and senators, she added, “always want to help the PGH” in terms of getting higher funding. “The PGH is always one of the recipients of amendments (to its budget) that happens almost every year. So if the funding is low, let us not be too concerned because this can still be remedied,” Quimbo explained.

During the turnover by Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman of the 2023 national expenditure program, Speaker Martin Romualdez assured the public that they will make sure that “every centavo of the national budget will be spent wisely to implement programs that would save lives, protect communities and make our economy strong and more agile,” and that lawmakers, “as the representatives of the people, will also be attuned to their needs.” If true, then there is hope that the budget cuts of the UP System and PGH will be restored, and maybe the allocations for health, agriculture, and transport will be increased as well.

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TAGS: 19th Congress, 2023 national budget, Editorial, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, social services appropriations
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