Solon questions measly funding for vaccine procurement

A LAWMAKER has questioned the increase in the proposed budgets of several institutions for next year while no realignments were made for the procurement of coronavirus vaccines. Party-list Rep. Michael T. Defensor, in a statement on Sunday, cited that the funding for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines remains measly while the House of Representatives and the Senate each received a P1-billion hike in their 2021 budgets. He also noted that the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) allocation increased by P229 million, which would likely be used for its financial assistance program and to purchase six new vehicles. The lawmaker said the increase in the budgets of the two chambers of Congress brought their combined funding to P28.5 billion, while funding for vaccine acquisition was maintained at P2.5 billion as originally proposed by the executive department. Mr. Defensor said the increases in the budget of the House and the Senate as well as the OVP were part of the P183 billion in realignments made in the “programmed” or tax-funded portion of the 2021 budget. “None of that amount was added to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines that will save lives and livelihood, revive the economy and return the country to pre-pandemic normality,” Mr. Defensor said. “We could have funded this from taxes instead of relying on lenders for money to buy badly-needed vaccines,” he added. Under the 2021 spending plan, an amount of P2.5 billion is lodged under the Department of Health for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. The proposed budget is currently under review by Malacañang prior to the President’s signature. Some P70 billion has also been placed under unprogrammed appropriations, funding for which will be released depending on the non-tax revenue collection of the government. “They augmented it by P72 billion, but this was relegated to the ‘un-programmed’ part of the budget that could be used only if there is excess tax revenue, a new tax or a loan,” Mr. Defensor said. The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan II, which was extended by Congress until mid-2021, also sets aside some 10 billion for vaccine procurement. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

DoLE assists over 340,000 minors profiled as child laborers

MORE than 340,000 minors involved in child labor, along with their families, have been extended assistance by the government, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) reported on Sunday. In a statement, the department said 293,318 minors “were referred for assistance while more than 47,000 were removed from child labor.” In addition, another 274,924 child laborers were profiled. DoLE said children and young workers are considered “among the most vulnerable” as the coronavirus health crisis affects the livelihood of mostly poor families in urban and rural areas. “Along with our campaign to protect the vulnerable workers, we also stepped up our efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said. Republic Act No. 9231 or the Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act mandates the department to address child labor. Mr. Bello noted that the pandemic has drawn children of poor families into some of the worst forms of child labor. “This is indeed unfortunate. This is why we had to work doubly hard to arrest the situation,” he said. DoLE’s child labor elimination programs include the provision of health and medical assistance, education and training, livelihood opportunities for the parents as well as legal action alongside protection and monitoring. — Gillian M. Cortez

SSS slammed for unfulfilled pension hike for seniors

A LAWMAKER on Sunday scored the Social Security System (SSS) for reneging on its commitment to grant the second tranche of the approved increase in pension for senior citizens. President Rodrigo R. Duterte in 2017 approved an initial P1,000 additional monthly pension benefit for pensioners, with the second tranche of another P1,000 to be granted beginning 2019. However, the net income of SSS slid 37% to P20.3 billion in 2017, after the approval of additional pension for retirees. SSS earlier warned that the implementation of the P1,000 additional pension this year could harm the long-term sustainability of its funds after its expenditures climbed by 27% to P180.2 billion in 2018. House Deputy Minority leader Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, however, said this is just an old excuse by the agency. “Using its already long discredited excuse of depleting fund life in exchange for the very lives of their pensioners, is the height of callousness and insensitivity, especially in this pandemic which aggravated a crisis that hit even more our senior citizens or elderly people,” he said in a statement. Mr. Zarate pointed out that the SSS fund life was thought to be less than 10 years in 2001, but that did not prevent the state-run institution from providing additional benefits as it embarked on reforms in the management of its funds. The results of the agency’s reforms should be made public, the lawmaker asserted. “In 2018, it had assured the people and Congress that it will institute the needed reforms to improve its fund life. What happened to these reforms?” he asked. “By saying that 10 years will be deducted from the SSS fund life if the 2nd tranche of the pension hike is implemented, they are using the same scare tactic used by the previous SSS administrations, which we have already debunked,” Mr. Zarate said. The SSS, which covers private sector workers, is mandated to provide social protection to members and families against the hazards of disability, sickness, maternity, old age, death, and other contingencies resulting in loss of income or financial burden. The Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index 2019 (MMGPI) listed the Philippines as one of the countries having the worst pension systems for retirees, rating the country’s retirement income protocol at 43.7 out of 100. The study was a collaboration of the Monash Center for Financial Studies and professional services firm Mercer. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza