Duterte’s fund shortage claim disputed
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte cannot claim that the government no longer has funds for Filipinos affected by Typhoon Odette because funds for crisis situations were already allocated in the national government’s budget, aside from funds that came from foreign loans.
“How can the president claim that there’s no available budget for typhoon victims due to COVID-19 when funds for the pandemic response were preprogrammed? How can there be no budget when he borrowed trillions for the pandemic, which should have prevented the calamity funds from being touched?” senatorial aspirant and Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said on Saturday.
Colmenares pointed out that the Philippines borrowed “trillions” for its COVID-19 response, and that funds for the pandemic were preprogrammed in the 2021 national budget.
He added: “This admission of fund depletion paints a picture of how badly the Duterte administration prioritizes its budget, especially in times of crisis.”
Colmenares made the remarks after Duterte said the government was looking for funds for typhoon victims as public coffers were “immensely depleted” due to the pandemic.
The president said on Friday that assistance would be sent to provinces severely hit by the typhoon as soon as he could get funding for aid.
But Colmenares said it was “impossible to think that this administration has no more budget for aid to typhoon victims, considering that the Philippines is the World Bank’s biggest borrower.”
He pointed out that the Duterte administration borrowed heavily and bloated the P5.9-trillion debt of the country in 2016 to almost P12 trillion.
“Even without the massive borrowings, there’s still a calamity fund that spans two fiscal years, with a P20-billion budget for 2021. Whatever happened to that?” Colmenares asked.
He suggested that the president tap the budget of his office’s intelligence fund and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) for starters.
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima echoed Colmenares’s suggestion and said the government could have retained money for disaster relief if not for the billions that were wasted in the so-called Pharmally scandal, as well the funding allotted for NTF-Elcac.
In a statement, De Lima blasted Duterte’s pronouncement that the national government is still on the lookout for possible sources of funding as he has supposedly exhausted all the government’s funds to COVID-19 response.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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