Think tank questions government’s 2021 spending priorities
Even as the proposed record P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget is being pitched as another stimulus to recover from the health and socioeconomic ills inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a report of state-run think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) is questioning why next year’s spending plan prioritized the police and military.
“The increase in budgetary appropriations for almost all sectors (except for general public services) for fiscal year 2021 confirms the expansionary fiscal stance of the government. As in previous years, high spending priority is given to social and economic services, which is consistent with the policy pronouncements of the government for 2021,” read the PIDS discussion paper titled “Analysis of the 2021 President’s Budget” authored by Janet S. Cuenca.
President Duterte was reportedly set to sign the 2021 General Appropriations Act on Dec. 28.
“The government’s greatest priority for 2021 is to sustain and strengthen government efforts in responding to and recovering from the pandemic. In this regard, the government deems it critical to shift priorities and realign spending policies. In particular, it directs the entire budget to focus on ‘containing the spread and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; funding a vaccine, restarting the economy to be able to create jobs and attract investments; and transitioning to the postcrisis recovery environment,’” the PIDS report said, quoting the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
“The emphasis on these spending priorities in the 2021 President’s budget message [earlier released by the DBM] creates an expectation that the DOH and the DSWD will rank much higher in the top 10 departments/recipients for fiscal year 2021,” the PIDS said, referring to the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which were in the front lines of the country’s protracted fight against COVID-19.
However, the PIDS said that “based on the detailed analysis done in this study, the 2021 proposed budget gives higher spending priority on maintenance of peace and order and national defense, which placed DILG and DND in higher spots compared to DOH and DSWD in the top 10 departments/recipients for fiscal year 2021,” referring to the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of National Defense.
In particular, the PIDS said “a close examination of various government documents indicates that the proposed budget for National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) is part of the government’s recovery program to adapt to the postpandemic life.”
Some economists earlier on urged scrapping the controversial P19-billion NTF-Elcac budget, which was believed to be an anti-insurgency fund, so the money could instead be spent on COVID-19 response.
When ranked according to size of proposed department budgets for 2021, the Department of Education together with the Commission on Higher Education, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as well as state universities and colleges topped the list, followed by the Department of Public Works and Highways, the DILG, the DND, the DOH, the DSWD, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, the judiciary and the Department of Labor and Employment comprising the top 10, DBM data showed. INQ
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