Philippines: Budget ceiling hiked

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has revised upward the proposed budget for 2021 to provide the government more funds to address the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a text message, Budget Assistant Secretary Rolando Toledo said the proposed 2021 budget is raised to P4.506 trillion, 9.9 percent higher than this year’s budget of P4.1 trillion.

The DBM previously set the 2021 budget at P4.335 trillion.

“The budget ceiling has been revised upward from P4.335 trillion to P4.506 trillion to provide sufficient budget support for programs, activities, and projects that will address the COVID-19 pandemic,” Toledo told The STAR.

Among the requirements to be funded under the 2021 budget include the health expenditures of the Department

of Health (e.g. procurement of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 vaccine), and education programs of the Department of Education (DepEd), particularly on distance learning, according to Toledo.

“Rest assured that the government will continue to balance funds for health and the economy given the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

In an interview with DZMM’s Teleradyo, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said about half of the budget for 2021 is estimated to be borrowed by the government from domestic and foreign lenders. “Hopefully, if I’m not mistaken, it could be around 49 percent, “ Avisado said.

The STAR asked National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon regarding the government’s borrowing program for next year, but said it is still subject to DBCC approval.

According to Avisado, the government is doing a delicate balancing act of protecting the health of Filipinos, while also reopening the economy.

“As we restart to revive the economy, this should also come with a balancing act. We need to intensify our testing, tracing and treatment and we need to take measures to widen and increase our quarantine facilities,” Avisado said.

“As we test and find more positive cases, we need to transfer them. We need to isolate them so that even if cases are increasing, our economy is not affected because we still produce. People are still working,” he said.

The DBM chief reiterated that the government would focus on “labor intensive” activities to generate more jobs for Filipinos.

He said agencies should also implement cost-cutting measures to set aside more funds for COVID-19 response.

For one, he said the government should suspend the construction of new buildings, and instead focus on finishing ongoing projects. The purchase of new vehicles, travel of government personnel and training, will also be deferred.

“We must tighten our expenses, especially on MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenditures), we only need the basics. We are ensuring that no matter what happens, everyone working in government, whether regular workers, contract of service or job order, will be paid,” he said.