By Genalyn Kabiling
As the government mulls over an extension of the Luzon-wide quarantine until the end of April, President Duterte has ordered Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to find additional funds to boost the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic even if he has to steal or borrow money.
In his public address Monday night, the President admitted the government’s P270 billion allocation will not be sufficient to bankroll the subsidy program for the “poorest of the poor” and other COVID-19 responses amid the coronavirus threat.
Duterte has expressed his inclination to extend the lockdown in Luzon until April 30 as the number of the country’s cases of coronavirus disease continue to soar. The enhanced quarantine, ordered by the president last March 16, is supposed to last until April 12.
“The P100 billion for one month or the P270 billion for two months ‘yan naka-program na (that was programmed) as earlier estimated is not enough,” Duterte said.
“I’m calling on the Secretary of Finance to generate. Magnakaw ka, maghiram ka, wala akong pakialam, i-produce mo ‘yung pera kasi ‘pag naubos na ito… Hindi ko malaman,” he added.
(Steal, borrow, I don’t care, just produce the money, because if this runs out…I don’t know.)
Duterte also raised the possible adjustment of the 2020 national budget, particularly discontinuing some programs to fund others related to the COVID-19 response.
Realigning savings of certain items of the 2020 national budget is among the powers granted to President Duterte under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act to effectively address the coronavirus emergency.
“We are exploring options to adjust our budget. Iyong budget na ‘yung — ‘yung earlier na budget wala pa ‘yung COVID. Sinabi ko, bawasan na lang ‘yung iba or totally ilaglag mo na lang ‘yang project na ‘yan, ilagay mo dito kasi ang unahin natin ang tao, ang tiyan,” he said.
(The earlier budget we had — COVID wasn’t around yet. I told them to reduce the allocation from some projects or totally drop the projects, just put it here because we will put the people first, their stomachs.)
“Kasi ‘pag wala nang kinakain, a human being can be violent, especially makita niya ‘yung mga anak niya wala ng kain, nag-iiyak siya. Maghingi sa gobyerno tapos wala na akong maibigay at maubos ‘yung bigas natin.”
(Because if there is no food to eat, a human being can be violent, especially if he sees his children starving and crying. He will ask the government, and then I have nothing to give and our rice supply might give out.)
He admitted that the government has limited revenues since the “economy is not moving” or at a “standstill.”
“Ang ginagamit natin ito na ‘yung nireserba natin na pera. Ang pinagyayabang ko na may pera tayo, it’s P300 billion,” he said.
(What we are using now are reserved funds. When I was boasting we had money, it’s P300 billion.)
Despite the limited budget, the President said the government is committed to provide assistance to the country’s poor families. He also raised the possibility of extending relief aid to middle class families who are also reeling from the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.
“I am reiterating that our most vulnerable citizens, especially the poorest of the poor, must receive the government’s assistance immediately. Kung hindi patay ‘yan sa gutom (Otherwise they will die of hunger),” he said.
“Alam ko na (I know that) we cannot just focus or zero in itong (on these) the poorest of the poor,” he said, recognizing the the burden of middle-income families too.
Duterte also appealed to the people “with more in life,” including employers, to help the government as well as the people in need.
“Kapag bumagsak ang gobyerno, bagsak kayong lahat,” he said.
(If the government falls, you will all fall.)
Earlier, the President submitted his weekly report to Congress about the government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak under the Bayanihan law.
He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development has already received P100 billion out of the P200 billion requested for the two-month emergency subsidy program for low-income families.
The Department of Budget and Management will approve the release of the balance of the appropriation as soon as the Bureau of Treasury releases the certification of availability of cash.
The budget department has also identified P189.8 billion worth of items that may be discontinued in the 2020 national budget and the 2019 continuing appropriations to fund COVID-related programs.
Of the total unreleased funds, P4.2 million was sourced from the special purpose funds intended for the budgetary support to government corporations.