SEN. Sherwin Gatchalian yesterday said the government’s special amelioration program (SAP) for poor households should be extended until next year when the country’s poverty rate is expected to hit 14 to 16 percent due to the adverse economic impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health crisis.
“Marami tayong kababayan ang matatanggal sa trabaho o hihina ang mga negosyo (Many of our countrymen will continue to lose their jobs and businesses will continue to run low),” Gatchalian said in an interview with radio dzBB.
The senator said the government can source funding for the SAP from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) law, or the Senate can add P30 billion to the proposed budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which is in charge of the SAP.
He said government can also source funds from the P469 billion budget “parked” at the Department of Public Works and Highways Central Office, which Sen. Panfilo Lacson said were re-appropriations from the agency’s current budget.
Also, Gatchalian said, the government can divert the budget for its unused travel expenses since travels of government officials and employees have been suspended for the rest of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That will amount to billions if we sum it all up. Let us just use them to help our countrymen),” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian said cash assistance for the country’s low income families will be needed next year especially since economic managers have predicted that there more Filipino families will fall below the poverty line.
“Fourteen percent more or less, that’s around 17 to 18 million Filipinos in the poverty line. Within next year, there will be 18 million more Filipinos living below the poverty line,” he said.
Gatchalian said the 53 percent cut in the proposed budget of the DSWD for next year is untimely since it is among the core agencies in the government’s COVID-19 response strategies.
The DSWD budget for this year is P366 billion but the Department of Budget and Management recommended that its allocation be cut to P172 billion for next year.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said extending the SAP will require a thorough study since the program will be hard to sustain in the long run.
“We need to carefully choose our priority programs. Anyway, other DSWD programs such as its 4Ps and livelihood projects are still in place. I think livelihood programs are better options for our countrymen in the coming months,” Angara said.
At the same time, Angara said the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of Health (DOH) will not be adversely affected by the “incompetence” of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in the fight against COVID-19.
Angara said senators will scrutinize the DOH’s proposed budget for next year and that while Duque’s dismal performance as health secretary and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation chairman of the board may somehow affect the way they will approve the budget, he guaranteed that this will not affect the department’s budget.
“We will not sacrifice the benefits to be received by our countrymen because we are talking here about the budget for hospitals, medicines. We must be professionals when it comes to these,” he said.