Group seeks ‘proper accounting’ of unused COVID-19 funds | Inquirer News

Group seeks ‘proper accounting’ of unused COVID-19 funds

Queues waiting for vaccination outside the Prince Hotel in Ermita, Manila.  INQUIRER file photo / MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

An independent group monitoring government spending on pandemic response has called for an “accurate accounting” of the unspent funds in the Bayanihan to Recover as One law (Bayanihan 2), which expired on June 30.

Policy researcher Ken Abante, coordinator of Citizens’ Budget Tracker, said the amount of unobligated funds reported by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) was higher than what government officials had earlier claimed.


“I’ve been reading reports quoting Secretary [Harry] Roque and [Budget] Secretary [Wendel] Avisado as justifying it was OK for Bayanihan 2 to expire because there is a range of only ‘P6.487 billion’ to ‘P9 billion’ in funds left. Their statements are incorrect,” Abante said.


In an urgent appeal on June 18 to President Duterte and Congress to extend Bayanihan 2, Abante’s group and 47 other civil society organizations noted that there were unused funds for critical COVID-19 response programs for health, public transport, education, agriculture, tourism, labor and social welfare amounting to more than P18 billion.

Service contracting

“For example, because we organize with transport workers, we know more than P3 billion in [the] service contracting budget [of the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, or LTFRB] is unobligated and undisbursed,” Abante said. “But the DOTr reports to the [DBM] that it has near 100-percent obligation and disbursement.”

In a press conference on June 29, the LTFRB also said it had disbursed P1.5 billion of the P5.58-billion budget for service contracting, leaving around P4 billion in unobligated funds.

Abante’s team has been maintaining a COVID budget tracker since last year, where they keep and update a master list of all available financial data on the government’s pandemic response plan.

“Why does Secretary Avisado say ‘there is really not much’ remaining Bayanihan funds? This is a lot of money. This is our hard-earned taxpayer money. This was a budget fought by basic sectors last year to recover from the pandemic. The Duterte government did not listen to calls to extend it, despite the plea from basic sectors,” Abante lamented.

Updated figures

The Department of Health (DOH), which had the biggest amount of unspent COVID funds across Bayanihan 1 and 2 as well as the 2021 budget, also promised to submit to the DBM a report with “more updated figures” on its budget use.


In documents released on Thursday, the DBM said that as of June 25, some P168.7 billion in approved COVID-related funds have remained unused by various state agencies. The DOH, lead agency in the fight against the pandemic, received a total of P157.4 billion from the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws plus the 2021 budget. However, the DBM said that based on its records, only P51.4 billion had been spent by the DOH so far.

In a text message, Health Undersecretary for Administration and Finance Leopoldo Vega said that contrary to the DBM report, the DOH has actually obligated almost all of the funds from both Bayanihan 1 and 2.

“We have been allotted a total of P78 billion for the two laws. We have obligated 98 percent of our Bayanihan 1 allotment, while as of June 11, we have obligated 93 percent of Bayanihan 2 funds,” Vega said.

Awaiting reports

The official also said the DOH was waiting for its implementing units to submit their own reports before it could accomplish the utilization report for the funds.

“We are looking to finalize our utilization numbers by next week as our implementing units continue to submit their utilization reports,” he said, adding that the DOH regularly submitted reports to the DBM.

In a text message, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III acknowledged that agencies such as the DOH were required to submit budget utilization reports to the DBM.

“Budget report data are progressive. We have to reconcile our figures with the DBM especially since the accounting period has just ended,” Duque said, adding that the DOH would give a complete accounting “in the coming days.”

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“Rest assured that the coming days will reflect more accurate figures for our kababayan to know where their money is being spent on,” he said. —With a report from Patricia Denise M. Chiu INQ

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: Bayanihan 2, COVID-19, response

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