Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on Saturday urged lawmakers to craft a national budget that “leaves no Filipino behind” and which focuses on investments in the regions and provinces, saying these will ultimately benefit the entire country.
“We need a national budget that leaves no Filipino behind. Walang iwanan dapat,” Cayetano said on November 26, 2022 as the Senate and the House of Representatives begin holding bicameral panel meetings to reconcile their respective approved versions of the P5.268 trillion National Budget for 2023.
Noting that allocations have usually favored the National Capital Region (NCR) and other highly urbanized cities, the independent senator said the 2023 budget should be made instrumental in distributing growth more evenly across the country.
“We should make every effort to provide quality jobs all over the country and not just in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and other urban centers. It’s time we replicate this growth in other regions,” he said.
Cayetano, a long-time advocate for regional planning and rural development, said all Filipinos “deserve the chance to live a full life no matter where they live.”
“Equity is an essential element of unity. Equity is fairness. It is social justice. It is the key in providing opportunity for all Filipinos to fulfill their potential not just for themselves but for the benefit of the entire nation,” he said.
“There is no equity if Metro Manila and highly urbanized cities are the ones that are always favored (in terms of the budget),” he added.
Cayetano also called on the government to ensure that every barangay in the country has electricity, water supply, internet connection, a good elementary and high school, and health centers, thereby making rural life “a real choice for a safe and comfortable life” for Filipinos.
He added that every province should have at least one good tertiary hospital, noting that the largest concentration of such facilities is in the National Capital Region (NCR) with around 60 while the regions are left with only around 5 each on average.
“This means there are provinces where the people have to travel far to get good health services,” he said.
Cayetano mentioned that many Filipinos, taking advantage of the “Balik-Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” program of the previous administration at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, returned to their respective hometowns to start a new life with their families.
“Marami sa kanila ang umasang may trabaho o ibang mapagkakakitaan sa kanilang pag-uwi. Let’s not disappoint them. Let’s instead reward their commitment by pouring in the necessary funds so that jobs can be created in the regions,” he said.
According to Cayetano, many Filipinos will be more willing to move to the countryside if they see the government seriously investing in water, electricity, internet connectivity, health, and education services across the country, as well as in agriculture and infrastructure.
“Projects like irrigation, farm-to-market roads, bridges, and others like these will pump-prime quality jobs in rural areas,” he said.
Citing irrigation as an example, he urged legislators to heed the request of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for a P50-billion budget instead of the approved P40.842 billion for 2023.
“More irrigation means greater harvest, and greater harvest means better economy — and a better life — for the provinces,” he said.
While Cayetano hailed the increase in the budget for farm-to-market roads from P7.485 billion in 2022 to P13.14 billion in 2023, he said this is not enough especially when compared with the amounts the country’s Asian neighbors are allotting for such infrastructure.
He pointed out that Thailand has completed 47,916 kilometers of farm-to-market roads while Vietnam has done 175,000 kilometers — a far cry from the Philippines’ 2,712 kilometers.
“Kung bubuhusan natin ng pondo ang mga ganitong proyekto sa labas ng urban centers, lalago ang ekonomiya nila at makakapagbigay tayo ng trabaho sa mas maraming Pilipino,” he said.
Cayetano, who is one of the assigned members of the Senate Bicameral panel, pledged to continue to bring this and other concerns to the bicam meetings.
The senator also suggested that distributing projects throughout the country will help ease congestion in the NCR and other urban centers. “If we want a long-term solution to decongest Metro Manila, the government must bring growth to the countryside,” he said.
Cayetano had previously said it would be beneficial to move the head offices of some government agencies to other regions where they can have more impact.
He said the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) can be transferred to Central Luzon which is the country’s rice granary, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to Cavite where the construction of a new international airport has just been approved, and the Department of Tourism (DOT) to Cebu which is a tourist haven.
“Metro Manila is the political and financial capital of the Philippines, but this should not mean economic activity should be concentrated in the National Capital Region,” Cayetano said.