DBM asked to restore P300-M innovation fund to help startups, laid-off workers

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Sen. Joel Villanueva has lamented the decision of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to reject the request of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to allocate P300 million for the Innovation Fund next year as unemployment is projected to remain high as a result of business closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sen. Joel Villanueva

Republic Act No. 11293 or the Philippine Innovation Act, puts up an innovation fund from which grants will be issued for programs that will “strengthen entrepreneurship and enterprises engaged in developing innovative solutions benefiting the poorest of the poor.”

The innovation fund was supposed to be instituted in the 2020 national budget, but the P300 million allocation was discontinued to comply with the government’s directive to pool its resources to finance its response to the pandemic.

For next year, NEDA originally proposed another budget of P300 million for the Innovation Fund, and another P17.18 million to finance the secretariat services to the National Innovation Council, which administers the fund. Both these items were not approved by the budget department, NEDA’s presentation showed.

“We hope that the government can find a way to tap resources to fund Republic Act No. 11293, because as many experts have said, now is the best time for innovation,” Villanueva said on Thursday, Sept. 17, at the hearing of the Senate finance committee, which is deliberating the budget of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and its attached agencies.

“Our budget for fiscal year 2021 is crucial in defining the country’s post-disaster landscape. We have seen how innovations provide hope especially for micro, small, and medium (MSME) enterprises amid the pandemic.”

“I hope ma-pondohan ito. I would rather support this than the DENR’s dolomite white sand project. As reported, P349 million iyon, mas malaki pa kumpara dito. I hope the secretary would have the extra effort because you have senators here who could help you,” continued the lawmaker, who chairs the Senate labor committee.

Villanueva enumerated Filipino-made startup projects that have been acknowledged as among the best innovations and inventions created to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The projects included Project GreenGrass, an online community monitoring to help local government units enforce quarantine measures; Sakay’s Frontliner Commuting Guide, a guide for commuters especially frontliners on the routes and schedules of P2P buses and public shuttles, amid the lack of public transportation; and Edukasyon.ph Online Education Network, an online platform that provides educational counseling services to stakeholders in senior high schools, higher education institutions, and tech-voc institutions, and also helps them migrate to online learning.

Villanueva said the Innovation Act would complement the proposed Digital Workforce Competitiveness Bill, which the lawmaker sponsored for plenary action.

Senate Bill No. 1834 “seeks to provide necessary digital infrastructures to upskill and cross-skill the Filipino workforce on digital technology and innovations,” the lawmaker explained.

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