Layout by Eldrick Nolasco
Every year, the Office of the President drafts a budget for the next fiscal year. Last August 24, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) submitted the National Expenditure Program (NEP) to the House of Representatives. The Php 4.506T budget is higher than last year’s Php 4.100T. However, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) percentage is just .1 percent higher.
With the pandemic unexpectedly coming and halting economic and government operations, the government focused the fiscal year’s budget in rebuilding the country back up with the theme “Reset, Rebound and Recover: Investing for resiliency and sustainability”. Reset, the government’s momentum and action; Rebound, from the debilitating effects of the pandemic on health and the economy; and Recover, from current and continuing impacts of COVID-19 to society.
The Education sector still has the biggest allocation of all, Php 754.4B—Php 606.5B for the Department of Education, Php 50.9B for the Commission on Higher Education, Php 13.7B for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA. This included Php 44. 2B allotted for free higher education, Php 994.4M for learning modules, transistor radios for far-flung rural areas, and 37,221 multimedia packages; such as laptops, tablets, etc. Php 24.1M has been allocated to construct 5,174 classrooms.
Contrary to what we would expect after a pandemic, the Department of Health comes in the fifth right after the Education sector, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Interior and Local Government, and National Defense. According to the President’s Budget Message, the healthcare system is collateral on transportation and infrastructure to function.
Of the Php 203.1B budget for the Department of Health, these are some of the appropriations; Php 71.4 B is for accessible health services through PhilHealth, Php 16.6B for Human Resources for Health, which brings healthcare out to rural areas, Php 2.7B for PPEs, Php1B for testing machines, Php 283 M for the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines, Php 20.9B for purchase of drugs.
Another focus of interests is Food Security, Php 142.5B funds for agriculture and agrarian reform; Social Protection through promoting infrastructure and integrating health and urban architecture; Enhancing interoperability to address coordination gaps through transitioning to the digital government; Safety, security, and stability which includes curbing environmental risk, allocating Php181.9B for climate change-related expenditure and the controversial Php 209.1B funds to address terrorism.
The 2021 budget claims that it is the greatest reset of the Philippine economy. However, this administration's priorities remain similar to its former years. Where did the reset take place? In the midst of the pandemic, still the focus lies on infrastructure and the military. There was no evident reform in the healthcare system. The administration lies its trust with PhilHealth even with its current corruption cases. We also didn’t see a solution addressing the diaspora of Filipino workers in the Health sector.
The term reset was a façade, and the pandemic was used to justify the same personal interests. As students aware of the harms brought by the pandemic, we expect more specific projects that cater to distance learning; innovative solutions that address the already present learning gaps.
As for the strong claim in renovating the health care system, there is no objective change nor budget allotted to do just that. Security is a big deal, however placing Php 5B more for terrorism than health is absurd, especially when the pandemic unraveled the gaps and the infirmities of our healthcare systems.
Realizing that the administration sticks to its personal interests even after a world-changing event, makes me wonder how big of damage it will take for a realization to thrive for real change to come? Maybe the problem lies in our inability to give voice to the minority and the different brave hearts who are willing to inculcate change into our systems and therefore create a different sense of priority for our nation. As future leaders, what do we prioritize and how do we invite others to care for our advocacies as well so that we can implement change as well?
This also made me realize just how much work is needed to be done for our desired platforms to push through. We have to work under the bureaucratic systems and are bound by traditional norms—that change is slow, inclusive, and progressive; we have to take part in striving towards it. That change both happens in the local and national scene. In our local communities, subtle traces of non-progressive systems are present. We shall take responsibility to review and change it. Change is possible by means of exercising our rights to suffrage. We, as the youth, now have the power to decide who to give our votes to. Registration is still going on until the end of this month.