Senators agreed on Wednesday to prioritize the rightsizing of the government before approving the bills that would create new departments.
During the Senate’s plenary debates on the proposed P4.506-trillion 2021 budget, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed out that allocations for personnel services (PS) are higher than the proposed funds for the capital outlays of agencies.
“The bureaucracy is getting bloated so that the allocation for PS [is] getting bigger to the prejudice of more productive spending in infrastructure, transportation, connectivity programs, etcetera,” said Drilon as he was interpellating Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.
The PS refers to the expenditure for the wages and other benefits given to government employees, as well as pension for uniformed personnel. The Department of Budget and Management had said that for 2021, PS reaches P1.32 trillion, or 29.2 percent of the total national budget.
“That does not even include the budget for programs that the newly-established department would want,” Drilon said.
“This is where we must watch out. Because in our chamber, there are eight bills to create eight departments, so you can imagine, again, the bias for personnel services.”
He noted that under the proposed 2021 budget, infrastructure projects under the administration’s flagship “Build, Build, Build” program would get P1.1 trillion, lower than the allocation for PS.
Angara, chairman of the Senate finance panel and principal sponsor of the 2021 budget, said he shares Drilon’s concern on the growing size of the bureaucracy.
“This is sometimes at the expense of other more urgent priorities like shoring up our infrastructure, investing in very important capital outlays like our broadband, for instance…Again, we should thread with caution with the creation of the new departments. As you said, once you create a department, you are creating a whole new bureaucracy and there’s a whole slew of expenses that accompany that creation,” he told Drilon.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III then reminded his colleagues that he filed Senate Bill No. 244 proposing the said rationalization, which includes an early retirement program for government workers.
“So before we even talk about the other departments you want to create, let’s pass [SB No.] 244 first, the rightsizing of our national government,” he said.
Asked by Sen. Francis Tolentino if this would be the thrust of the Senate and would mean the shelving all pending bills on the creation of department, Sotto said that “I would personally rather prioritize rightsizing first before we even look into the possibility of new offices, new agencies, or new departments.”
“Rightsizing doesn’t necesarily mean that you will remove departments, you will just put it in its proper size, enough to improve public service delivery,” he added.
No senator objected to the Senate chief’s position. Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, also voiced out his support for the rightsizing of government, particularly the merging of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform.
Sotto and Drilon asked the appropriate Senate committees to take up and report out the rightsizing measure before they deliberate on the creation of new government agencies.
“Given the very dire prediction on our revenues, on our ability to support the health sector, we should not keep ourselves deeper in the hole by creating more departments at this point,” Drilon said.
The Duterte administration has pushed for the creation of separate departments to deal with disaster response and the needs of overseas Filipino workers.