Philippines

‘Tight fiscal space’ to affect gov’t response to COVID-19 epidemic – Drilon

By April 20, 2020 No Comments

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s “tight fiscal space” will have serious implications on the government’s capability to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned Tuesday.

Drilon raised this concern as he expressed doubt about whether or not the government would have enough funds to implement programs under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“Our tight fiscal space seriously affects the government’s capability to address COVID-19,” the senator said in a statement.

Drilon’s remarks came after President Rodrigo Duterte submitted to Congress his first weekly report on the implementation of the said law, which granted additional authority to the President to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic in the Philippines.

According to Drilon, the lack of sufficient funds would undermine government interventions to fight the spread of the highly-infectious disease, which has so far infected over 2,000 people in the country as of March 31.

Due to the outbreak and the imposition of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, revenue collections are greatly affected and government disbursements—which account for around 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—are expected to slow down, he said.

Also, the senator said this would make the government dependent on loan and aid to address the COVID-19 epidemic, “hence the slow responses.”

Drilon earlier noted that only P1.65 billion in excess funds are available to be realigned to the Department of Health (DOH).

“It appears that even before COVID-19 hit the country, our fiscal position is already worsening,” he said.

According to the senator, the Bureau of Internal Revenue has collected P2.176 trillion in 2019, which was lower than the agency’s revenue target of P2.271 trillion.

The Bureau of Customs, likewise, fell short by P30.7 billion from its P661 billion target for 2019, he added.

“The government must brace for the worst: our depleting resources and the economic effects of COVID-19,” Drilon said while he lamented that the COVID-19 response of the Duterte administration has been “lacking in many aspects (and in) coherence.”

“We regret to see from that the government has not crafted any new interventions or programs that could help the poor and keep the economy afloat while we are on lockdown,” he added.

Drilon further pointed out that some of the much-needed allocations and programs for the poor may even be realigned and tapped to fund COVID-19 response activities.

“There is no additional funding because they did not request for a supplemental budget. That is very clear. The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act utilizes the 2020 General Appropriations Act,” the senator said.

Drilon then stressed that the Bayanihan law has already authorized the President to reprogram, reallocate, and realign funds for the immediate roll-out of measures that will respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

Under the Republic Act No. 11469, the President is authorized to direct the “discontinuance” of appropriated programs, projects or activities of any agency of the executive department, including government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs), in the 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

This is “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.”

But Drilon pointed out that the President’s first report stated that no special-purpose funds (SPFs) have been utilized for COVID-19 measures as of March 27, 2020, except for the P500 million replenishment of DOH’s quick response fund.

“We have to see a comprehensive COVID financial package that will cover both the health and economic aspects. The Report does not show us what this looks like,” Drilon said.

“For one, has the government augmented our health workforce? The 2020 budget has funds for the hiring of nurses and doctors under the Miscellaneous and Personnel Benefit Fund,” he said.

With this, Drilon called for the immediate release of funds for programs identified in the law.

This includes the hiring of doctors, nurses, and other health workers; purchase of medical supplies and equipment like testing kits, mechanical ventilators; and establishment of isolation units; the operational budget of the Philippine General Hospital; among others, he said.

Moreover, Drilon called on the government to enhance its collaboration with local government units (LGUs).

“This is the best time to harness the local governments as partners of the national government. We must capacitate them to address the issues, as the frontline government institutions,” he stressed.

“We have to enhance the participation of LGUs. The Report shows very limited assistance, if at all,” he added.

Drilon also joined calls for the immediate implementation of the P200 billion aid to low-income households.

“Marami po sa ating mga kababayan ang nagugutom na (Many Filipinos are already going hungry). We need to feed the poor and make them healthy,” Drilon said.

“We need to augment funding for our healthcare system, buy more test kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs), mechanical ventilators, among others,” he added.

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TAGS: 2019-nCoV, Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, China, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DoH, fiscal space, Franklin Drilon, Health, Local news, lockdown, Luzon, Nation, national news, NcoV, nCoV update, news, novel coronavirus, Outbreak, pandemic, Philippine news updates, Philippines, Quarantine, State of Calamity, Virus, Wuhan
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