Philippines' parliament approves $92.5 billion budget for 2021 coronavirus recovery

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FILE PHOTO: President Rodrigo Duterte speaks after his arrival in Davao

By Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines' lower parliamentary house on Friday approved the 2021 budget, after a leadership row nearly derailed debates on the spending plan aimed at helping the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The record 4.5 trillion pesos ($92.5 billion) budget bill, approved by 257 lawmakers with six voting against, now passes to the senate for further hearings.

A joint congressional session will then finalise the spending programme before it is signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, who called a special session of parliament last week for budget hearings.

Allies of Duterte dominate both chambers of congress.

Ministries of education, public works and interior bagged the most budget at 754 billion pesos, 667 billion pesos and 246 billion pesos, respectively.

The firebrand Philippine leader had urged lawmakers to resolve a leadership row that threatened to delay the passage of next year's budget, something Duterte cannot afford as he nears the end of his single six-year term. The parliament elected a new house speaker on Tuesday.

The Philippine economy was one of Asia's fastest-growing prior to the pandemic that resulted in recession and millions of jobless Filipinos. The World Bank forecasts the Philippine economy to contract by 6.9% this year, the biggest decline since the 1980s and worse than the government's projected 5.5% fall.

"Next year's budget requires us to carefully strike a balance in providing the fiscal stimulus for economic recovery while containing the spread and mitigating the effects of COVID-19," House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said in a speech to close the four-day special session.

Lawmakers also approved a bill granting Duterte special powers against red tape during national emergencies like the pandemic. It allows Duterte to fast-track the issuance of permits to projects like key infrastructure programmes critical to lifting economy and help attract investors. ($1 = 48.65 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by John Stonestreet and Toby Chopra)

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