THE government continued to slash the budgets of several departments, including education and agriculture, with funds being redirected for its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response.

Data from the Budget department as of June showed budget support for government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) was reduced by another P5.568 billion, bringing its total program down to P185.334 billion. In May, the allocation for GOCCs was cut by P5.084 billion.

Out of 35 line departments of the National Government, 22 saw budget cuts as of June, while four agencies received higher allocations as main implementing agencies of programs for COVID-19 response.

The Education department’s budget was trimmed by P2.323 billion to P497.17 billion, bringing the total reduction to P24.18 billion so far.

The Agriculture department suffered a P2.17 billion cut in June or P13.87 billion year to date, to bring its budget to P48.42 billion.

Funds for state universities and colleges were reduced by P1.718 billion in June to stand at P64.758 billion as of June. Cumulative budget cuts for state universities and colleges (SUCs) reached P8.958 billion this year.

Republic Act. No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act authorized the President to reallocate funds for COVID-19 response. Based on official documents, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) adjusted the budget allocations for the third time this year.

The Offices of the President (OP) and Vice-President (OVP) were not spared from budget reductions. The OP’s budget was cut by P80.092 million to P8.173 billion, while the OVP’s budget was trimmed by P12.25 million to P687.63 million.

The Energy department’s budget was slashed for the first time, with its allocation reduced by P140.43 million to P1.289 billion.

The allotment for the Department of Public Works and Highways was further trimmed by P175 million last month, bringing the total reduction to P123.113 billion as of June. Its budget stands at P457.773 billion for the year.

Agencies whose budgets were further reduced last month were: other executive offices (by P658 million); the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (by P650 million); Department of Foreign Affairs (by P425 million); the Department of the Interior and Local Government (by P264 million); and the Department of National Defense (by P226 million).

Meanwhile, the Departments of Health (DoH), Labor and Employment (DoLE), Finance (DoF) and Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had their budgets increased by P1.879 billion, P5.59 billion, P35.257 billion, and P165.198 billion, respectively, in June.

The DoF is the main implementing agency for the wage subsidy program, while the DSWD implemented the emergency cash aid program. DoLE rolled out various subsidy programs for displaced workers.

Leonardo A. Lanzona, a professor at Ateneo de Manila University’s Economics Department, said the government’s top priority is to address the public health crisis as the economy’s recovery hinges on it, while ensuring the limited funds will be redirected to programs that have the most impact.

“Having money is not enough. What matters most is having the right strategy. We can try to intensify the testing and tracing for instance, but if, in the end, this only leads to backlogs in the data, the effort is wasted. We need to know where the funds are going to create the greatest impact. In that case, we might not have to reduce the budget of the key sectors like education and agriculture,” he said.

As of June, 87% or P3.567 trillion have already been released by the government out of its P4.1-trillion spending plan for this year. — Beatrice M. Laforga