By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — In consideration of the continued impacts of COVID-19 on the country, Senator Sonny Angara said today that the pandemic response will be the foremost priority in the Senate’s version of the 2022 national budget.
As the Chairman of the Committee on Finance, Angara took note of how the proposed 2022 national budget, as submitted by Malacañang to Congress, did not include several key items related to the country’s response to the pandemic.
“Funds are very tight this year because as noted by our colleagues during the DBCC, parang hindi COVID budget yung sinabmit po ng DBM because there were no funds for contact tracing, no funds for testing outside of the booster shot, no funds for the testing of the 12 to 17 year olds, no funds for contact tracing, no funds for the SRA, the Special Risk Allowance of our health workers,” Angara said.
During the hearing on the 2022 budget of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Angara said that the challenge would be to find a balance between the various interests and requirements of the different agencies of government and the funds needed to address the pandemic.
While the Senate will work hard to heed the various requests for funding increases of the agencies, Angara said the bias would be on strengthening the country’s health response.
“With the understanding of the department and all the other agencies, those will be our utmost priorities going into 2022. Yung health response po ng bansa, because that’s our very existence under threat,” Angara said.
“You must admit that self-preservation is the ultimate goal of any individual or society. So, let’s preserve ourselves first, and then we can go towards the other more lofty goals,” he added.
Under the proposed P248.5 billion budget of the DILG for 2022, there was no provision for the hiring of contact tracers.
DILG Secretary Eduardo Año explained to the committee that no item for contact tracing was included in the agency’s 2022 budget because when they submitted their request to the DBM, the Delta variant of COVID-19 was not yet in the picture.
The Secretary noted that the 2021 budget of P500 million for contact tracing was no longer included by the DBM in the DILG’s 2022 budget since this was a congressional initiative.
Año did acknowledge that the Delta and other emerging variants have altered the projections of the government on attaining herd immunity and as such the DILG has included a proposed budget for contact tracing in its “wish list” that was submitted to the Senate.
The DILG is looking at hiring 25,000 contact tracers for the entire 2022.
Angara assured the DILG that the Senate will continue to support its requests as much as possible as it has done in the past.
“For the record, last year, the Senate raised the budget of the DILG family by more than P3 billion with the amendments proposed by Senator Bato, Senator Ping, Senator Nancy, Senator Win. Nagtulungan po kami para itaas ito,” Angara said.
“Yung nabanggit ng ating mga kasamahan, yung mga bodycam, yung mga police cars, police stations, fire stations na hindi nabibigyan po ng pansin over time, we’ll try to consider that. Let’s liken it to doing something while you’re also running in place. Mahirap po talaga. But, please, trust in your lawmakers to make some difficult judgments,” he added. (ai/mtvn)