The MIMAROPA Congressional Representatives pledged support to the endorsed budget proposals of the MIMAROPA Regional Development Council (RDC) for 2021 during the Advisory Committee Meeting held last September 30 virtually through Zoom. Said budget includes the 2021 proposed programs and projects of 40 government agencies/offices and six state universities and colleges (SUCs) in the region.  The meeting was called to solicit support from the region’s House Representatives members  to ensure priority projects and programs will be included in the 2021 General Appropriations Act.

In his message, RDC Advisory Committee Lead Convenor and Lone District of Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco highlighted the need to be united and coherent in addressing the challenges in the region, among which is the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic which brought health and economic crisis. He expressed the importance of gearing investment programs towards containing the spread and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, restarting the economy, and transforming to the “new normal” environment consistent with the MIMAROPA Regional Development Plan (RDP) 2017-2022 and MIMAROPA Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (RRP) for COVID-19.

RDC Chairperson and Romblon Governor Jose R. Riano  presided over the meeting. He emphasized that the inclusion of the fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget proposals in the agency budgets will ensure achievement of the sectoral outcomes specified in the following regional development plans and priority programs: (a) MIMAROPA RDP 2017-2022; (b) MIMAROPA RRP for COVID-19; (c) Build, Build, Build Program; d) Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program; and (e) Whole-of-Nation Approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

Department of Energy (DOE) Undersecretary Alexander S. Lopez  represented Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security and DOE Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi.  Usec. Lopez read Secretary Cusi’s message urging the regional stakeholders to build back smarter by reviewing strategies and revisiting approaches  to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and for the time, effort, and human capital spent in planning, deciding, and preparing projects to not go to waste.

RDC Vice Chairperson and NEDA Regional Office in MIMAROPA Regional Director (RD) Susan A. Sumbeling presented the top ten priority programs by congressional district and the status of inclusion of RDC endorsed Tier 2 programs, projects, and activities  of regional line agencies (RLAs) and SUCs in the region to the FY 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP). This includes: (a) Development Administration sector with three out of 77 Tier 2 proposals of ten member agencies included in the FY 2021 NEP; (b) Economic Development sector with 20 out of 115 Tier 2 proposals of 13 member agencies included in the FY 2021 NEP; (c) Infrastructure Development sector with eight out of 64 Tier 2 proposals of nine member agencies included in the FY 2021 NEP; and (d) Social Development sector with 49 out of 225 Tier 2 proposals of nine member agencies and six SUCs included in the FY 2021 NEP.

Of the 481 RDC endorsed Tier 2 proposals amounting to PhP14.78 billion, only 81 proposals amounting to PhP3.04 billion or 20.60 percent  were included in the FY 2021 NEP. These figures set MIMAROPA as one of the regions with the  lowest share in the national agency budget in the FY 2021 NEP.

During the meeting, government agencies/offices and SUCs were requested by MIMAROPA legislators to submit the priority PAPs not included in the FY 2021.

Meanwhile, the Committee tackled other issues and concerns raised such as the  implementation of Universal Health Care Law in the region and the recent pronouncement of  President Rodrigo Duterte to abolish the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth); status of Punong and Olango Bridges in Sibuyan, Romblon; status of construction of Gabion dam in Mogpog, Marinduque; status of for later release or FLR  projects for FY 2020 in Palawan; and  incidents of discrimination among COVID-19 patients and persons under investigation and monitoring.

The success of the Advisory Committee meeting manifested  how the region’s chief executives and legislators are all together as one in addressing emerging challenges brought about by the pandemic and in pursuing regional development.