By Ben Rosario
Government has little reason to panic yet over fears of not having enough funds to sustain the fight against the coronavirus disease that has spread in the country, administration and opposition leaders in the House of Representatives assured Friday.
This developed as House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez disclosed Friday that the Lower House has already started to make preparations for the convening of a special session that will pass the supplemental budget measure to support the anti-COVID-19 battle.
“This is a call of duty and we are committed to respond to President Duterte’s request to ensure possible quick response to defeat COVID-19, help Filipinos living below poverty line, protect people in the frontline, and map out other contingency measures,” said Romualdez.
However, Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda and Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said government still has enough funds for anti-COVID-19 efforts.
Legarda, for instance, said there is the P1.6 billion unprogrammed funds that may be used for social programs to aid Filipinos affected by the COVID-19 crisis, which led to enhanced community quarantine in the entire Luzon and the declaration of state of calamity in the whole country.
On the other hand, Zarate urged the executive department to make available for the COVID-19 fight billions of pesos in Quick Response Funds (QRF) of the various departments of government.
“The unprogrammed fund for social programs may be used up to P1.6 billion. This can be released by DBM (Department of Budget and Management) to DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) for immediate cash payout for food subsidy and medicines for the poor,” Legarda revealed.
She disclosed that under the 2020 General Appropriations Act, a special provision on the Availment of the Unprogrammed Appropriations provides that if an item in the non-tax revenues exceeds its target, this will trigger the release of the unprogrammed fund.
“Last January, P1.6 billion from dividends exceeded targets, which may be used for social programs,” she said.
Among these social programs are the TUPAD program or cash for work but at home of the Department of Labor and Employment; the assistance to indigents of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD); and the medical assistance program of the Department of Health (DOH).
Zarate disclosed that a number of local government units, particularly barangay units, have expressed fears that their respective quick response funds may not be sufficient to support their constituents, especially during the entire quarantine period.
He said that “the LGUs are allowed to request from the President, through the Office of the Civil Defense and NDRRM (National Disaster Risk Reduction Management) Council replenishment of their Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund (LDRRMF).”
“Instead of overburdening the LGUs, particularly the barangays, the concerned executive departments with embedded QRF should also maximize the use of these funds to immediately augment the needs of our people to combatCOVID-19 and its effects,” Zarate said.
Among the departments awash with QRF cash are the Department of Agriculture, P1.5 billion; Department of Education, P2.1 billion; DOH, P600 million; Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense, P250 million; Department of Public Works and Highways, P1 million; and the DSWD, P1 billion.