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Duterte to sign 2021 budget bill by end of the year, Palace says

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will sign next year’s spending plan into law by the end of the month at the latest, according to the presidential palace.

The President would sign the measure either on Dec. 23 or 28, his spokesman Harry L. Roque told a news briefing on Thursday. He did not say whether the palace had received the ratified copy of the budget bill.

Last week, lawmakers ratified the P4.5-trillion spending plan for next year, which seeks to support economic recovery after a record recession amid a coronavirus pandemic.

The Palace earlier said Mr. Duterte would thoroughly review the measure for any lines that would need to be vetoed.

The bicameral conference committee increased the allocation for the health sector by 42% to P287.47 billion. The funds will go to the Department of Health (DoH), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and healthcare personnel, among others.

Under the budget, P72.5 billion will be set aside for the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine program. Of this, P2.5 billion is under the DoH, while the remaining P70 billion consists of unprogrammed funds.

The amount is lower than the Senate-approved P83-billion allocation for vaccines, which included P8 billion under DoH and P75 billion in unprogrammed funds for vaccine procurement, distribution and storage.

Lawmakers had worked to avoid a repeat of the 2019 budget scenario that led to the reenactment of the 2018 budget for more than four months.

The delay stemmed from an impasse between congressmen and Budget officials, and later with the Senate.

The 2019 budget was also reenacted for less than a week in 2020, after President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the 2020 budget only on Jan. 6.

The largest share of the 2021 budget goes to the education sector with P708.18 billion, in line with the Constitution. The education sector’s budget, however, was 6.12% lower than initially proposed.

The second-largest chunk goes to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with P694.82 billion, up by 4.12%, as the government boosts infrastructure projects to drive the sluggish economy.

Economic output slumped by 11.5% in the third quarter after a 16.9% contraction in the second quarter pushed the country into its first recession in nearly three decades.

Lawmakers also increased the budget of the Labor department by 33.1% to P36.6 billion and the Department of Social Welfare and Development by 3.19% to P176.65 billion. The Transportation department’s budget was cut by 39.1% to P87.44 billion. — GMC

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