Palace: ‘Not much delay’ in calamity fund release
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Monday said the government’s calamity funds would be released as the need arises, adding that any delay in the use of the money had been minimal and was due to the necessary “paperwork” to comply with audit guidelines.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque issued the statement as he described as “bloated” the Inquirer’s May 3 story that P25 billion in calamity funds from the 2020 and 2021 national budgets remained unused amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roque maintained that there was “not much delay” in the release of the funds.
“Of course there is paperwork. You know this. This is how things are in the government. You cannot just spend without compliance with [Commission on Audit] requirements,” he said.
He quoted Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado as saying that the calamity funds are released as needed, and that these cannot be used without any justification.
“Natural calamities do not happen just once, so these should be used when there is a request in response to a particular disaster or natural calamity,” Roque said.
He added that the release of the funds also needed the President’s approval—one of the factors, as cited in the Inquirer report, behind the delay in the release of the funds.
Regarding the 2021 calamity funds, Roque said these were not supposed to be fully utilized five months into the year. “There may be another calamity this 2021 and we might not have funds for this,” he said.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, he said, has a P20-billion budget for 2021 inclusive of P13 billion for its regular fund, P5 billion for the rehabilitation of Marawi City, and P2 billion as insurance premium for government assets in the event of a calamity.
From that budget, P2.8 billion had been approved for release by the Office of the President and P8.23 billion would be for ongoing projects, Roque said.
He pointed out that P35 billion would be needed to mitigate the damage wrought by Typhoons “Quinta,” “Rolly” and “Ulysses” in 2020.
This means the funds allotted so far are not even adequate, Roque noted.
In response to criticisms of the government’s pandemic response, Roque said: “It is not right to say there is a lack of sense of urgency since all of us want to spare as many of our family and friends from this vicious virus.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday filed a resolution calling for a special audit on the government’s spending of P570 billion in stimulus funds, as the country’s health system remains overwhelmed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[The national government has] been spending billions from the public coffers, but this has not resulted in easing the sufferings of Filipinos. Government must take a hard look in the mirror by doing a special audit of its financial decisions more than a year into the pandemic,” Hontiveros said in Senate Resolution No. 710, which urges the Commission on Audit to conduct that special audit on expenditures under the two Bayanihan stimulus programs enacted last year.
Hontiveros also noted recent pronouncements by President Duterte that the government was helpless in dealing with the pandemic.
“Many… did not want to have COVID-19, but died. We cannot do anything about it. That’s our fate,” Mr. Duterte said last week.
Hontiveros, in response, said: “Has the government given up in its struggle against COVID-19? Instead of owning up to their lapses, officials are now openly admitting that they can no longer do anything, and worse, they are even blaming the people.”
She added, “At a time when our country is experiencing a spike in the COVID-19 cases, Filipinos are clueless on how their money is being spent. How can we provide funding for medicines, cash aid, medical facilities and life-saving programs if we do not know which have been addressed and which have not?”
Not felt on the ground
Hontiveros said it was “crucial” to evaluate these expenses made so far amid deliberations on the 2022 national budget.
A special audit on the Bayanihan funds, she said, will help in responding to bottlenecks and inefficiencies that have proved to be “fatal.” Hontiveros lamented that the P570 billion that the government said it had spent on COVID-19 response had yet to be felt on the ground.
“If the P570 billion was properly used, why are there patients who sleep on box sheets outside the hospitals?” she asked
She noted that, more than a year into the pandemic, many health workers have not received their hazard pay, many families have not received their cash aid, and the country’s health facilities are “severely lacking.”
“It is our duty as legislators to exercise our power of the purse judiciously,” Hontiveros said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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