Duterte signs ₱4.5-T budget for 2021

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President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 28) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday signed the ₱4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.

Duterte signed the spending plan as Republic Act No. 11518 in a ceremony held in Malacañang. Select members of the Senate and the House of Representatives witnessed the event.

Although it was not announced during the signing, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told CNN Philippines in a text message that some items under the spending plan have been vetoed and will be announced tomorrow.

The government averted a reenacted budget for 2021 as the bill was signed into law three days before January 1.

The timely rollout of projects would be crucial to recover from this year's recession, with the economy having shrunk by 10% as of September due to COVID-19 quarantine rules and earlier lockdowns. Consumer and business confidence remain low as people fear getting infected if they step outside their homes, also keeping household spending –– the key growth driver of the local economy –– in negative territory.

The top 10 agencies that will receive the highest allocations under the 2021 national budget are as follows: Education (Department of Education, SUCs, Commission on Higher Education, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority); Department of Public Works and Highways; Department of Interior and Local Government; Health (Department of Health, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, and vaccine procurement); Department of National Defense; Department of Social Welfare and Development; Department of Transportation; Department of Agriculture; The Judiciary; and the Department of Labor and Employment.

The 2021 budget is touted as the recovery budget as it provides additional funding for COVID-19 response and sets a ₱72.5-billion allotment for vaccine purchases. However, only ₱2.5 billion will come from available cash, as the bulk will be funded through loans.

It allots some ₱283 million for the establishment of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines that would spearhead studies on emerging and re-emerging viruses, and ₱51.56 million for disease surveillance and monitoring of coronavirus.

It also earmarks ₱1.1 trillion for infrastructure projects, which are expected to create jobs and boost economic activity after a recession year.

The national budget also allots ₱17.02 billion for the development, reproduction, and delivery of learning resources, and ₱5.9 billion for the expansion of the Department of Education's Computerization Program.

Under the spending plan, ₱20.4 billion will be allotted for the Department of Labor and Employment to help displaced formal and informal workers, while ₱2.4 billion will be earmarked for the Department of Trade and Industry's MSME Development Program.

The government will also continue to provide cash aid under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens, Sustainable Livelihood Program, and the Supplementary Feeding Program.

The budget has also allocated ₱4.3 billion for the implementation of the Philippine Identification System.

Separately, bills extending the validity of fund allocations under the 2020 budget as well as under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act are also seen to boost government spending and spur greater economic activity next year.

The government projects that the economy can grow by 6.5-7.5% in 2021 after shrinking by at least 8.5% this year.