Progressive representatives scrutinized and questioned the Duterte regime’s proposed budget for 2021 this month. Representatives from the Makabayan Bloc highlighted the bloated allocations for the military, as well as for Rodrigo Duterte’s office and agencies under it.
These include a nearly 3,000% budget increase for the National Task Force-ELCAC, ₱206-billion increase for the Department of National Defense and huge allocations for the Office of the President’s intelligence funds. The representatives criticized these agencies for squandering public funds in carrying out the regime’s suppression campaign, marked by red-tagging, illegal arrests and detentions, and extrajuducial killings, which is directed against organizations, individuals and institutions critical of regime.
In line with this, Sen. Franklin Drilon demanded an audit of funds alloted to the NTF-ELCAC. He said that the manner of disbursement to the agency “allows corruption to thrive.” Around ₱16.7 billion out of the ₱19-billion allocation will go to barangays for unprogrammed social and economic projects.
Mass organizations also criticized the regime for prioritizing its infrastructure program amid the raging pandemic. According to Ibon Foundation, around ₱1.1 trillion out of the ₱4.3-trillion national budget is earmarked for the regime’s Build, Build, Build program. Getting the lion’s share are the Department of Public Works and Highways (₱613 billion) and Department of Transportation (₱107.4 billion). A large part (36%) of these funds are allocated for road construction. On the other hand, only ₱1.8 billion was allocated for the construction of medical facilities and hospitals despite the lagging health system in the country.
As in the previous years, solons treat infrastructure funds as pork barrel. Huge funding gaps between districts was exposed when a pro-administration congressman questioned the large allocation for the districts of Duterte’s most trusted minions in Congress. This includes the ₱8-billion allocation for Rep. Alan Cayetano’s district and ₱11.8 billion for Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte’s district.
If taken in its entirety, budget allocation for social services remain small. According to Ibon Foundation, the regime allocated less for programs crucial in the time of the pandemic and recession. The nominal increase in the allocation for the Department of Labor and Employment is insufficient to aid millions of workers who lost their jobs. Funds for the Department of Trade and Industry’s program for small businesses dropped from ₱534 billion to ₱454 billion.
The regime hypes that it increased funding for education and social services. However, it failed to allocate sufficient funds to help students cope with changes brought about by the lockdown. As elementary and high schools are shifting to modular and online learning, the regime only alloted a minimal increase to the budget for curriculum development. It also alloted measly increases in the budget for state universities and colleges. It did not allocate funds to improve the backward digital which is a bane to online education.
Worst of all is its allocation for the Department of Health, which should have been the priority as the current health system is already overstretched, and the pandemic is showing no sign of ending, is increased only by 2.9% (₱27 billion). This is way insufficient even just for hiring additional medical workers. Budget for crucial medical programs were slashed including the epidemiology and surveillance program, maintenance of public hospitals (including Covid-19 centers) and test laboratories, data gathering systems, training for medical personnel and many others. According to the Alliance of Health Workers, this reflects the regime’s deliberate neglect of the people’s health and its policies against mass testing, contact tracing and ensuring that pandemic measures are science-based.
Aside from the increase in allocations for Duterte and his minions’ counterinsurgeny program and corruption, nothing has essentially changed in the proposed budget for 2021. It still breeds a favorable ground for corruption benefitting only plunderers and fascists even in the midst of a pandemic and recession.