Invest more on social infrastructure, De Lima to Senate colleagues

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Senator Leila M. de Lima has alerted her Senate colleagues about some “red flags” in the proposed 2018 P3.8-trillion national budget as she urged them to invest more in people, especially for their social protection, basic education and public health.

In her letter sent to fellow senators, De Lima lamented that the proposed national budget for social services fundamental to ensuring people’s safety and productivity have received huge cuts, if not funded at all.

“In building a nation, we do not just build physical edifices and infrastructures. While those are important, there is no justification for overlooking people,” she said.

“Living, breathing human beings, who have health, social welfare and basic needs that must be addressed. Especially those who, like the victims of the conflict in Mindanao, particularly Marawi, are not just in need of a rebuilt city, but also of rebuilt lives; like the victims of the drug problem, and the victims of the War on Drugs. They need physical, psychological, emotional and social rebuilding as well,” she added.

Note that infrastructure development programs is one of the priorities under the proposed national budget for 2018, with the government’s “Build, Build, Build” getting P1.097 trillion or almost a third of the budget.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) received the budget allocation of P643.3 billion, a 37.5% increase from its 2017 allocation of P467.7 billion while the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has been allocated P73.8 billion.

The departments in charge of the country’s safety and public order — including the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of National Defense (DND) — have also been allocated higher budgets.

The DILG will receive P172.3 billion, 15.4% higher than the 2017 level, while the DND will expect an increase by 5.5 percent to P145.0 billion.

De Lima noted while there is great emphasis on infrastructure projects and law enforcement agencies, the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) community-based drug rehabilitation program and the Department of Education’s (DepEd) random mandatory drug testing initiatives received no funding.

She said the Duterte administration failed to recognize that the drug problem is as much a social and health issue, as a peace and order issue.

“PNP Chief Ronald M. Dela Rosa himself recently admitted that there are more poor people being killed in relation to the War on Drugs, reasoning that this is to be expected because there are more poor people involved in drugs. If we are to take his statement at face value, then that in itself, at the very least, ought to have prompted the government to realize that there is a correlation between poverty and susceptibility to becoming involved in drugs,” she said.

“If the government is not even attempting to address the drug problem as a social welfare and health issue — both in relation to its cause and its resolution through community-based drug rehabilitation program — then what exactly is the driving policy behind the government’s war on drugs? If we are spending that much money for intelligence funds, what do we do with the information? Use it to identify the poor people who will be subjected to the ‘Final Solution’?”” she questioned.

To address the illegal drug use, De Lima noted there should be adequate funding for constitutionally appropriate, school-centric drug intervention programs, saying youth are more susceptible to vices, such as drug-use, due to peer pressure.

In addressing poverty that can compel parents to leave their children for a better economic opportunities abroad, De Lima suggested two solutions: Improve the availability of domestic jobs capable of sustaining a decent standard of living and look after the welfare of the family the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) left behind.

De Lima further questioned the “worrying” minimal increases on social protection, basic education and public health.

“This representation flags this as worrying considering the needs that have clearly arisen in relation to these areas in light of recent developments, such as the increasing unemployment rate, the rising prices of commodities, the devastation to the lives, property and health – physical, psychological and spiritual – of those affected by the crisis in Mindanao, as well as reports of the rising number of cases of HIV infection among a critical demographic of society, just to name a few,” she said.

The Senator from Bicol maintained there are better means to spend the government’s money that are less vulnerable to corruption and abuse.

“Clearly, there are more efficient and effective ways to spend the budget than putting unprecedented lump sum amounts in multiple confidential and intelligence funds, discretionary funds, than in purely infrastructure projects and even for overhead expenses of the Office of the President [amounting to P6.03 billion for 2018],” she said.

Although “problematic,” De Lima said she believes the proposed 2018 national budget is still “correctible” as long as proper amendments are made.

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