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[B-SIDE Podcast] Money where your mouth is: the proposed national budget and the government’s priorities

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Despite saying that the pandemic response is a top priority, the executive department of the Duterte administration slashed the P50.4 billion allotted for healthcare workers’ allowances and other benefits from the proposed 2022 budget. 

“It’s so important for us to know exactly what the government wants to do — and what it really wants to do is reflected in the national budget. It’s not really in the public statements that officials make day in and day out during their press conferences,” said Zy-za Nadine Suzara, executive director of think tank Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLead).  

In this B-Side episode with BusinessWorld reporter Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Ms. Suzara explains why the broader public should pay close attention to the ongoing budget deliberations. 

TAKEAWAYS 

Look at the line items. 

The Department of Health’s P242 billion budget may seem like a significant sum, but according to Ms. Suzara, it’s inadequate for a proper pandemic response. 

What’s more important is not to look at the sheer numbers,” she said. “What’s more important to look at are the very specific programs that are part of it.” 

Vaccines, for example, are under unprogrammed appropriations. “When it’s part of unprogrammed appropriations, … it kind of symbolizes that it’s [vaccine procurement] actually second priority. 

Patronage-driven projects have been rebranded as sustainability projects.  

“Patronage-driven and less strategic projects like multipurpose halls and small types of infrastructure… have been rebranded as sustainability projects under the convergence program,” said Ms. Suzara. “They’re pretty much the same. That’s definitely a cause for concern.” 

The 2022 budget needs to address the public health crisis…  

“If we don’t see funds for contact tracing, massive testing, boosting the public health system and providing risk allowances for health workers who are in the frontlines — as well as funds for immediately buying the vaccines — then we’re going to have a hard time containing this pandemic,” said Ms. Suzara. “And we’ll probably just see a cycle of lockdown and reopening the economy happening again and again.” 

… and economic recovery. 

“Build, Build, Build program projects are capital expenditures which aren’t fast disbursing,” said Ms. Suzara. “In order for government spending to make an impact on our GDP, it has to be spending for fast-disbursing things.”  

Instead of spending on the “Build, Build, Build” projects, Ms. Suzara recommended focusing on cash aid, distance learning, service contracting program for public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers, support for micro, small and medium enterprises, among other programs that can help Filipinos cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

Recorded remotely on Sept. 11. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.

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