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Drop in the bucket

On the first day of plenary debates on the 2022 General Appropriations Bill, House Deputy Minority Leader and Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo questioned the meager allocation for COVID-19 response in the proposed P5.024 trillion national budget, noting that it was less than 1 percent of the whole package.

Quimbo said that the P48.41 billion allocation for the government’s pandemic response, excluding the unprogrammed P45 billion for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, was not enough as it is merely 0.96 percent of the total budget.

She cited how the government had spent P536.4 billion for COVID-19 response under the two previous Bayanihan laws which spanned one year and two months.

“We can see that the P48 billion for health response in 2022 is a really small amount, a drop in the bucket,” Quimbo said, noting that there were even no allocations for the special risk allowances and other benefits of healthcare workers.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier told lawmakers at a House Budget hearing that the Department of Budget and Management had slashed his department’s COVID-19 response budget for next year.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, a former health secretary, earlier said that the government must allocate funds for free COVID-19 tests and contact tracing, adding that the 2022 national budget did not augur well for the war against the coronavirus.

Government’s unwillingness to improve its pandemic response as reflected its proposed budget for 2022 does not bode well for a country that is already among the worst affected due to its lackluster response and missed opportunities over the past year and a half. Without proper funding, Filipinos can expect testing for COVID-19 to remain inadequate, contact tracing to be the same recurring joke that started in 2020, and other government initiatives to contain the pandemic and encourage recovery be low in terms of impact and quality.

The pandemic is not yet over, and given our weak response so far, it will continue to affect the country through 2022 and probably beyond. If our government’s level of commitment to fighting this pandemic can be found in the proposed budget, allocating less than 1% of next year’s budget would be akin to throwing the towel.

A measly allocation for COVID-19 response would be understandable if we were already winning the war and on our way to recovery. However given the current situation that has gotten worse instead of improving, what were our government officials thinking when they prepared the 2022 budget?*

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