Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima laments the government’s seeming indifference to social protection and welfare programs amid the worst economic crisis of the country due to an ongoing pandemic and devastation left by recent typhoons.
De Lima, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, in an Omnibus Comment on the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) submitted last Nov. 23, expressed dismay that some poverty alleviation measures have been left largely untouched despite calls for more funding.
“Centerpiece to this year’s budget should be the poverty alleviation and social amelioration, along with the economic recovery program. However, it appears that the welfare component has taken a back seat to other programs of the government,” she said.
“There is barely any change in the DSWD aid programs. There is less assistance for affected workers and Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the 4Ps has increased only by P5.3B, representing what is mostly increase in operating costs… We also need to address the needs of many of our senior citizens,” she added.
Last Nov. 26, the Senate passed the P4.5 trillion National Budget for 2021 on both second and third readings. Voting 22-0, the Senate moved to convene with House of Representative leaders in a bicameral conference committee to reconcile their versions of the bill.
The lady Senator from Bicol, however, said she regrets the Legislative Branch’s “hesitation” to increase the funding for local industries and the support needed by small businesses, especially MSMEs. This can be gleaned from the comparatively low allocations for relevant programs and services at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Likewise, De Lima refused to believe the Duterte administration’s often used excuse that there is not enough funding for social welfare programs, while there have been staggering increases in the budgets for the police, military and the Office of the President in the 2021 GAB.
“What the administration really means is that they are not willing to spend for our poor countrymen the way they are supposed to; that they would rather spend our money on things other than social amelioration,” she said.
She also called the P16.4 billion budget allocation for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as “offensive” to the Constitution since developing barangays in the country are not included in the mandate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“Since when is the Armed Forces responsible for barangay development programs such as farm-to-market roads and livelihood? Since when did we allow the military to govern our country? Why would generals in active duty be placed in control of billions of pesos in public funds intended for civilian works?,” De Lima asked.
“It is not the role of our military to govern over civilians. It is the role of our civilian government. For us to give the NTF-ELCAC the discretion to give or not to give barangay development funds would constitute undue delegation of legislative power,” she said.
According to De Lima, if the Duterte administration is truly concerned with the development of the more than 42,000 barangays in the country, the budget for projects should have been given to civilian government agencies instead, such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), DOLE, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
“Let us call a spade a spade. This NTF-ELCAC controlled fund is a patronage-based lumpsum fund not unlike what was previously known as the pork barrel. It requires post-enactment intervention from the NTF-ELCAC in order to trigger disbursement,” the Senator stressed.
“We are better off realigning the budget towards more pressing endeavors such as vaccines, health and isolation centers, MSME relief, DepEd support, rebuilding of government structures and roads damaged by typhoons. We should use our budget now on more urgent needs and not on political patronage,” she added.
De Lima, who has been in detention for the past four budget seasons, has continued to actively participate in budget deliberations by submitting proposed amendments and other legislative commentaries through her Legislation Unit. As a social justice champion, she has also authored and sponsored major social justice and welfare measures including, among others, the 4Ps Act and the Magna Carta for the Poor. (30)