At the hearing on the proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Lacson stressed the need for greater government support for research and development, especially in the fight against COVID-19. He also raised questions on:
* Information that PhilHealth is not getting full allocations from the sin tax
* Why P30B in COVID-19 response funds remain undisbursed
* NEDA’s ‘Resiliency’ planning
* SUPPORT FOR RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT:
Sen. Lacson questioned why the 2021 budget for DOST’s Research and Development Institutes was slashed by P76M, as he stressed the need to allot more funds from the budget to research and development. He lamented R&D has received a mere 0.3 to 0.4% of the national budget in past years.
“We are a nation of shoppers. Pag kailangan ng PPEs, import. Pag kailangan natin ng face mask, import. Pag kailangan ng face shield, import. Pag sa vaccines naman nagmamakaawa tayo kung pwede tayo bigyan ng kaunting prayoridad, nakikiusap tayo sa ibang bansa. (Yet) I don’t think we have a dearth of native talent among scientists and technology experts.”
Lacson added even the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs underscored the importance of S&T especially during this time of the pandemic. But now, he lamented some agencies’ R&D efforts are limited to Googling for what to procure. “What kind of R&D efforts do we have in this country? Kaya i-Google maski ng Grade 5 pupil ang kung anong bibilhin. Yan ang gusto ko malaman. Bakit ganoon ang policy natin towards R&D and towards S&T?”
“Ang point ko, bakit hindi pagtuunan ng pansin sa pamamagitan ng pagbigay ng pondo? Siguro kung mai-consolidate natin ang 0.4% of the entire national budget, nag-cut across na ito sa R&D ng iba’t ibang ahensya. So sayang ang homegrown talents natin kung di natin susuportahan. For all we know baka tayo naman ang mag-e-export ng ma-create natin at maimbento ng ating mga technology experts and scientists, instead of relying all the time on imports.”
DBM Sec. Avisado said he agrees, adding that in Cabinet meetings “yan ang laging tulak ni Pangulo, na suportahan ang R&D.” Avisado added R&D funding is not only for DOST but also for other departments including defense and environment.
He added the DOST and its attached agencies increased their budget from P20.523B in 2020 to P23.89B, or a 16% increase. He added P283M was allocated for the establishment of the Virology Science Technology Institute; and another P66M for the Philippines’ participation in the international solidarity clinical trial for COVID vaccine launched by WHO.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lacson pointed out he has made the initiative to increase funding for R&D, including P60M during the Arroyo administration. “I am a believer na sayang naman ang mga talent natin. I hope as a policy decision sana maglaan tayo ng mas kaunting halaga pa para mag-invest tayo sa R&D natin,” he said.
* NATAPYASAN? PHILHEALTH NOT GETTING FULL ALLOCATIONS FROM SIN TAX COLLECTIONS?
Sen. Lacson cited information indicating PhilHealth may not be receiving the full amount from 50% of sin tax collections “Kasi kami nagbabantay sa PhilHealth, mabuti napalitan na rin naroon si Dante Gierran. Gusto malaman ng senador kasi katatapos ng aming COW investigation tungkol sa anomalies sa PhilHealth. We want to find out aside from the P71.4B na subsidy from GAA, pakibigay nyo kami ng lowdown, ng breakdown.”
“May narinig lang ako like sa sin tax, hindi buong 50% na nakukuha sa sin tax binibigay nang buo sa PhilHealth. Mukhang tinatapyasan ito at di lahat binibigay. And I’m interested to find out if totoo ang information namin. We’ll just wait for the submission. Hindi lahat nire-release.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Lacson questioned why there is not enough budgetary support to implement even the medium cost level of the Universal Health Care Act – the budget for UHC is only P203B, while the medium cost level will need a budget of P241B.
“Ang ideal scenario and budgetary provision in the implementation of UHC Act, P257.4B. Ito ang nasa high cost scenario, meaning all barangays will be covered. Ang medium nasa P241B, only select areas will be prioritized, meaning siguro mga 6th class barangays and 6th class municipalities. Ang low cost natin meaning status quo, P141B. Ang budget ngayon natin sa UHC, P203B. E may pandemic pa tayo. Ito hindi pa naka-approximate sa medium cost natin na scenario.”
“So bakit ganoon, bakit P203B lang ang nailagay natin para sa UHC ng ating bansa samantalang last year pinagusapan na natin ito, nagdagdag ang Senate ng P7B. Natandaan ko from P67B naging P74B ang isang portion para sa UHC. Ang tanong ko, even during this time of the pandemic hindi pa natin inabot ang threshold ng medium cost scenario, which is P241B. So kaunti na lang uusad na, pwede na tayo mag-graduate sa medium cost scenario na P241B para at least makapaglagay na tayo, ang nakalagay roon select areas ang mapa-prioritize. At may listahan naman kayo nito. I believe DOH or DILG may listahan kung ano ang mahirap na municipalities and brgys na pwedeng masaklaw pag nasa medium cost scenario na tayo.”
* P30B IN UNDISBURSED COVID RESPONSE FUNDS:
Sen. Lacson resumed his inquiry on the P30B difference between allotments worth P389B and allocations in the amount of P359B, in relation to the government response to coronavirus. “May we know which agencies are responsible for the P30B spending gap by failing to disburse? And as a follow-up, which sectoral beneficiaries have not been adequately addressed?”
“Bakit hindi na-disburse? Sapat na ba ang pangangailangan ng targeted beneficiaries, whether it’s labor sector, or yung sa PPP, or sa DA, gusto ko lang po malaman. Kasi I understand may mga nagrereklamo pang mga LGUs na di nakakatanggap. Please correct me if I’m wrong, barely 15% ang na-address sa SAP amelioration. So I’d like to find out bakit di na-disburse ito, di na-release in spite of DBM having issued allotments to these agencies.”
DBM Sec. Wendel Avisado explained the disbursements are with the individual departments and agencies, and that the DBM had released all allotments to the DSWD especially for SAP.
Sen. Lacson pointed out his questions stemmed from the complaints of several sectors that they are not getting enough aid. “Interesado lang ko, bakit kapos, nanghihingi pa ibang sectors, meron pang P30B na di pa nare-release, samantalang available P389B. Bakit P359B lang na-release?”
* NEDA’s RESILIENCY PLANNING:
Meanwhile, Sen. Lacson expressed concern about the Resiliency stage scenario of the NEDA, particularly on the planning, which would influence spending priorities. “Sa military tactics, wrong assumptions involving for example enemy strength, terrain and weather, often lead to loss of lives. Our present critical situation, I’m afraid, the same principle applies.”
The NEDA’s timeline indicates the Philippines should be in the “Resiliency” stage by 2021, thus its focus on the Build, Build, Build infrastructure program, with a budget of more than P1 trillion.
“Mas concerned ako sa resiliency kasi pag nagplano tayo ng budget based sa assumption na resilient na tayo pagpasok ng 2021 at mali ang naging assumption natin, baka mali ang ating pag-prepare ng budget. That’s my only concern. But since you said you will be flexible enough to adopt to prevailing developments as we go on, that’s good enough for an explanation.”