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'Funds for COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 budget'

'Funds for COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 budget'

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano gave assurances yesterday that the House of Representatives will allocate funds in the proposed 2021 national budget for the procurement of a vaccine to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We know they are being cautious about the deficit, but funds should already be allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine,” the Taguig-Pateros congressman said, as he told reporters that he considers the P4.3-trillion budget the administration plans to submit to Congress soon as “very conservative.”

“We can label it as COVID-related programs so that if the vaccine is not yet available, they can use the money for testing or procurement of medical supplies. They won’t have to go back to Congress for additional appropriation,” Cayetano explained.

“What if there is a vaccine and they won’t supply unless you pay at once? So the funds should already be available in the budget,” the Speaker said, noting that several countries are expecting to develop a vaccine in about a year or so.

Cayetano said the House “wants to enter 2021 fully aware that the country has to meet the challenges of COVID-19 head-on.” Aside from vaccine funds, the House would include the economic stimulus appropriations to help affected sectors recover from the pandemic.

“We’re already talking about what part of the 2021 budget is stimulus as well,” he said.

Such appropriations would be in addition to those that would be contained in the Bayanihan Act 2 or the planned “We Recover as One Law,” he added.

The Speaker revealed that the House, together with the Senate, and the Department of Finance are now close to agreeing on the final version of the proposed legislation.

“I think 80 to 90 percent we’ve gone over it and we already have some consensus,” he said.

Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte said Congress, the Development Budget Coordination Committee, and the Department of Budget and Management would have to do a “reprioritization” of the proposed 2021 budget to focus spending on responses to the pandemic.

“For Congress, definitely the investments would continue to be on infrastructure and health. We will have to prioritize health because of the situation,” the Camarines Sur congressman said.

For his part, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda – chairman of the House ways and means committee – urged the Inter-Agency Task Force to ensure that reopening the economy “is targeted and takes unique risks into account” as Malacañang considers changes to the quarantine regime by June 30.

“Easing the economy should be targeted, elements of a ‘running economy’ should be present,” he reiterated.

“There are things that reopening the economy cannot do without: safe public transport, safe offices with minimum health standards, and reliable telecommunications service for those working from home. We have to take them into account,” the Bicolano congressman said.

“That means, we may have to allow provincial buses around Metro Manila to operate. We will also need to rationalize restrictions on transport. For instance, it might not make sense to distinguish between modern and regular jeepneys,” Salceda maintained.

“We should also consider whether there are checkpoints and other mobility restrictions that could be rationalized. Those who go home late from work, travelling from one province to another, may need relevant exemptions,” he added. “So, we should check the list of people eligible for IATF passes, for possible expansion.”