ECONOMIST-LAWMAKERS on Tuesday said amendments should be introduced in the 2022 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) to increase the allocation for Covid-19 response.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, sponsor of the 2022 GAB and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo both agreed that when the Executive Department crafted the budget, the more contagious Delta variant was not yet detected in the country.

In her interpellation, Quimbo said P350.2 billion or only 6.72 percent of the proposed P5.204-trillion GAB is allocated for Covid-19 response.

Of this allocation, Quimbo said only P48.8 billion is for Covid-19 reponse of the Department of Health (DOH).

The Covid-19 response funding for next year is only 1.95 percent of the 2020 gross domestic product, she noted.

“Compared to the other Asean countries, our proposed Covid-19 response is very small relative to GDP,” she said.

“This is not reflective. The GAB 2022 in its current form does not constitute a sufficient Covid response,” she added.

According to Quimbo, the government, through Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws, has allocated P536.4 billion.

Under the 2022 Covid-19 response budget, huge amounts were allotted for the Department of Transportation (DOTr) with P127.2 billion, Department of Education (DepEd) with P99.1 billion, DOH with P48.4 billion, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) with P33.629 billion and Department of Agriculture with P14.7 billion.

“The P48-billion proposed budget for 2022 for health response is a very small amount, a drop in the bucket,” Quimbo noted, asking if the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) does not have a proposal “to amend the GAB 2022 for a more sufficient health response as we understand that during the budget call and technical budget hearings, there was no Delta variant detected yet.”

With this, Quimbo said Congress should pass a supplemental budget to increase the government’s allocation for Covid response.

For his part, Salceda agreed with Quimbo that the 2022 National Expenditure Program was crafted without the bigger wave or the Delta variant.

“Delta appeared some time in April right in the middle of the second wave. Obviously the budget was crafted without Delta,” Salceda said.

“I think there is a need to recast the 2022 budget. I’d rather recast the budget. There are items immediately that could be shifted to augment the health response budget to Covid in 2022,” Salceda said.

With the theme, “Sustaining the Legacy of Real Change for Future Generations,” the P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022 is equivalent to 22.8 percent of GDP and is higher by 11.5 percent than this year’s national budget.

“What’s the general principle of this budget? I’ll tell you simply, health is wealth, there’s no trade off. There will be no wealth if there’s no health,” Salceda said.

Meanwhile, the House is eyeing to approve the budget on third and final reading by September 30.

Congress will go on a break from October 1 to November 7 as candidates for all national and local positions are expected to file their certificates of candidacy.

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