Protesting workers emerge from an underpass in Manila during the start of a Labor Day protest march in this file photo. (Photo: Basilio Sepe)
A Catholic Church labor group in the Philippines has accused lawmakers of ignoring the poor, as well as the health and labor sectors with its budget for 2021 by not allocating a “sufficient amount” to cushion the effect of the coronavirus on hard-hit Filipinos.
The Church People-Solidarity Group, an organization composed of clergymen and churchgoers advocating for the protection of workers’ rights, said lawmakers promoted social exclusion instead of social justice.
“The budget approved by Congress fails to address the needs of those who are affected by the coronavirus pandemic, especially the workers. There was very little reserved for social amelioration of retrenched workers and the poor. A huge chunk of the budget was for infrastructure, which we think, is non-priority given the pandemic,” the group said in a statement.
Philippine lawmakers approved on Oct.6 a 4.5 trillion-peso (US$93.75 billion) budget for 2021.
Under Philippine law, Congress has the “power of the purse” or the authority to approve and allocate the country’s annual budget.
The group’s chairman, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, however, said Congress had intensified inequality by being anti-poor for its meager allocation to the health and labor departments.
“The 2021 national budget intensifies social exclusion because it would show that the poor who cannot afford to go to hospitals or take swab tests would die due to lack of money in the health sector,” Bishop Alminaza told reporters.
Bishop Alminaza said the government did not consider the predicaments of the poor.
“It [the 2021 budget] does not guarantee health care, especially to the poorest of the poor and those severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Bishop Alminaza added.
“The budget speaks of so many things as it is an indicator of the priorities of the government or administration. It also confirms that health measures to control the coronavirus were not a priority under this administration, while only a fraction was allocated to the labor sector.”
Lawmakers had allotted US$100 million each for social and health protection and for micro and small enterprises.
On the other hand, infrastructure and the military got whopping amounts US$22.91 billion and US$15.42 billion, respectively.
“There is a burgeoning budget on infrastructure amid the worst health crisis and economic decline in the country’s history,” Bishop Alminaza said.
The prelate also urged lawmakers to reconsider amending the budget to prioritize the more urgent needs of the people.
“Amid economic hardships and massive unemployment, the poor needed not only charity but also justice,” he said.