Gov’t has enough funds for COVID-19 response, senators assure
MANILA, Philippines — The government has enough money to fund the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, senators said on Tuesday.
“Budget is no concern or problem at all. The President knows that,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters in a Viber message.
Late Monday night, President Rodrigo Dutert said in a televised speech that he had asked Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III to find more funds for the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President said the amount of around P270 billion already allotted was “not enough.”
The funding was allowed as part of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, or Republic Act No. 11469, which granted Duterte special powers to allocate it.
The law also allowed the President to “direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities (P/A/P) of any agency of the Executive Department, including government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs), in the FY 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), whether released or unreleased, the allotments for which remain unobligated, and utilize the savings generated therefrom to augment the allocation for any item directly related to support operations and response measures, which are necessary or beneficial in order to address the COVID-19 emergency.”
“We have not touched the 2020 GAA [General Appropriations Act], except the usual first quarter expenditures. Life is most important. Money can be restored later,” Sotto, speaking partly in Filipino, went on.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also pointed out that the government could tap other sources to augment the funds for the country’s COVID-19 response, on top of the available P275 billion from untapped and unused funds from GOCCs.
He said Dominquez had earlier informed the Senate, during a caucus with Cabinet secretaries, of a $100 million grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a standby loan from World Bank that may be tapped.
Lacson added that unused appropriations of several agencies from the 2019 GAA, which Budget and Management Secretary Wendel Avisado estimated at P600 billion, could also be tapped by the government.
According to Lacson, the distribution of assistance to affected families would pose a “bigger challenge” than the availability of funds.
Sen. Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate economic affairs committee, also said that “there is money.”
According to her, the government could make use of the savings from the 2019 GAA, among other sources.
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. also expressed optimism that the finance department would be able to fund an expanded coverage of beneficiaries of the government’s COVID-19 social amelioration program.
“It looks like we need to broaden the initial projection of giving cash assistance to only 18 million families,” Revilla said in Filipino.
Revilla said the Bayanihan law had given the executive department powers to find means to do so.
The legislature would always be available to contribute to finding solutions, he added.
Under the law, some 18 million low-income households will be given an emergency cash subsidy, ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 per month for two months.
To date, Philippine health officials have confirmed 3,764 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.
Of that number, 177 patients have died while 84 have already recovered.
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