De Lima doubts Duterte’s claim gov’t funds are running out
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday cast doubts on the claims of President Rodrigo Duterte in his televised address that public funds are running out amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In a statement, De Lima said that government’s coffers can’t be exhausted yet, adding that the President should first prove that the remaining funds in the 2019 and 2020 budgets have already been totally used up before even considering the sale of public assets.
Duterte, in his briefing with cabinet members Wednesday night, contradicted his previous claims that the government has enough funds at hand to ramp up government support for those affected by the enhanced community quarantine that resulted in work suspension in many regions, except frontline services.
The chief executive likewise raised the possibility of selling assets like the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine International Convention Center to fuel government projects.
“Why is Duterte hinting already of disposing of our assets? Exhausted na ba talaga ang available funds (Are the available funds really exhausted), and those that can be reprogrammed within government?” De Lima asked.
“Wala pa tayo sa puntong ‘yon. Dapat makumbinse tayo na wala na talagang pera ang gobyerno (in the budgets of 2019 and 2020; funds held ng GOCCs and other agencies, etc.) at mga special purpose funds (e.g. Malampaya, road users’ fund, etc.) to begin contemplating the selling of our assets,” she added.
(We are not yet at that point. We should be convinced that the government really does not have any money, (in the budgets of 2019 and 2020; funds held by GOCCs and other agencies) and in special-purpose funds (Malampaya, road users’ fund) to begin contemplating the selling of our assets.)
Transcripts of Duterte’s address were sent by De Lima’s staff to her detention cell at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame. The lady senator is currently detained due to drug charges that allegedly stemmed from her stint as justice secretary.
But aside from the reprogrammable funds, De Lima also questioned whether Duterte has already considered tapping into the Office of the President’s intelligence funds in the 2020 budget, which stands at P2.25 billion.
Under Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, Duterte has the power to reallocate, realign, and reprogram items in the 2020 budget towards government programs against COVID-19.
Part of the budget will also be used to help workers affected by the quarantine.
“Saka nasaan na nga ba ang napakalaking intel funds, baka naman pwedeng magamit din ito? Saka kahit ibenta pa nila lahat ng assets ng gobyerno, kung ganito pa rin kawalang liderato ang gobyerno, wala pa ring mangyayari down the line,” De Lima stressed.
(Where are the huge intel funds of the Office of the President, maybe we can use these? And also, even if we sell all the assets of the government if this government’s lack of leadership continues, nothing will happen down the line.)
Previously, Bayan Muna leaders Rep. Carlos Zarate and chair Neri Colmenares laid down ways for the government to build the P275 billion COVID-19 response fund. Both insisted that there is enough money for the government, and that the current administration is only slow in tapping into these sources.
As of Thursday, the entire of Luzon is still under the ECQ — which was extended until April 30 as the number of patients infected with the latest coronavirus strain continues to rise.
Department of Health officials said that there are now at 4,076 patients infected with COVID-19, 203 of which have already died while at least 124 have recovered.
Worldwide, over 1.5 million individuals have been infected, while 88,228 have died from the disease and 330,934 have recovered from it.
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