PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte is set to submit a record P5.024-trillion national budget for 2022 to Congress on Monday (Aug. 23), with nearly P2 trillion going to social services that includes pandemic response, the presidential spokesperson said.

The proposed spending plan is 11.5% more than this year’s P4.51-trillion budget, with the government prioritizing funding for health-related services and education-related programs as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

Palace Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing that the social services sector will get P1.922 trillion or 38.3% of next year’s national budget.

Funds will be used to implement the Universal Health Care Act and Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, as well as the purchase of more coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

No other specific details were given.

The economic services sector will get P1.474 trillion or nearly a third of the 2022 budget. This will be used to finance the flagship infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program, which are aimed at creating jobs to help the economy recover from the pandemic.

The general public services sector will get P862.7 billion, while P541.3 billion or 11% of the proposed budget will go to paying off debts.

The Defense sector will be allocated P224.4 billion under the spending plan.

By department, the biggest allocation under the 2022 budget will go to the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) with P773.6 billion next year. This is 9.24% higher than the P708.181 it received in this year’s budget.

The Department of Public Works and Highways, which is one of the main infrastructure implementing agencies, will get a P686.1-billion budget, 2.82% higher than the P667.3 billion in this year’s budget.

This was followed by the Department of Interior and Local Government, whose budget will be nearly unchanged at P250.4 billion.

The Department of Health (DoH) will get a 19% increase in its 2022 budget to P242 billion.

“If there’s one thing that should receive the highest allocation in the 2022 budget, it would be the health sector,” said John Paolo R. Rivera, an economist at the Asian Institute of Management.

“Unless the pandemic is managed, we cannot liberally open the economy,” he said in a Viber message. “While the pandemic is here, the budget must be allocated to social services.”

“Policy makers need to realize that unless the pandemic is arrested, we cannot have normalcy in our lives, unless we are working on something to make this disruption the new normal,” Mr. Rivera said.

The Department of Defense will receive a P222-billion allocation, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development will get P191.4 billion in next year’s budget.

The Transportation department, which also implements major infrastructure projects, will be allocated P151.3 billion. The Department of Agriculture and National Irrigation Authority will get a P103.5-billion budget.

The proposed 2022 budget will face strong scrutiny from lawmakers after the Commission on Audit (CoA) flagged the unmaximized budgets of several government agencies, said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

“We expect them to be extra hard on many agencies flagged by CoA,” she said in a Viber message. “With the Executive branch presenting their proposed budget for 2022, it is expected that the two Houses will be harder on the proposed budget.”

“The 2022 elections are near and the public and various interest groups are clamoring for Congress to exercise greater oversight functions,” she said, noting that the lawmakers will avoid being accused of not doing their job and condoning inefficiency and possible corruption.

The Health department is at risk of having its allotment reduced after state auditors flagged deficiencies in its pandemic response funds amounting to P67.3 billion, Ms. Atienza said.

“The two Houses have been scrutinizing the finances of DoH and whether these have actually been used for pandemic response,” she said. “Now, the CoA report has given the two Houses additional data to make the DoH accountable.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza