Lawmakers to government: tap savings from MOOE

Published April 7, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

Lawmakers urged the Duterte government on Tuesday, April 7, to tap its savings generated from the unspent Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) during the lockdown to help those affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

1PACMAN partylist Rep. Michael "Mikee" Romero (Mikee Romero blogspot / MANILA BULLETIN)
1PACMAN partylist Rep. Michael “Mikee” Romero (Mikee Romero blogspot / MANILA BULLETIN)

Deputy Speaker and 1-PACMAN partylist Mikee Romero proposed that the government’s unutilized MOOE allocation be used as a financial aid during the ECQ. “Because of the ECQ that has forced many government offices to temporarily close and their personnel are compelled to stay home, the bureaucracy is naturally generating a lot of savings in funds for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE),” Romero said in a statement after President Duterte said on Monday night that the P275 billion COVID-19 response fund may not be enough to cover the two-month emergency subsidy program that would benefit 18 million low-income households.

He said among the MOOE expenses the government is saving “include those for fuel and other oil products, electricity, water, supplies and materials, communication, advertising, representation or dining out and entertainment, and travel.”

“Since the administration’s economic team projected crude to cost between $60 and $75 per barrel when it proposed the 2020 budget, this means that the government is not spending tens of billions in appropriations for oil-related expenses,” he said, noting that the cost of crude has been steadily decreasing since January from $54-$55 per barrel to less than $25.

Under this year’s P4.1-trillion national budget, the MOOE allocation amounted to P1.6 trillion, Romero noted. “If we save 10 percent of that during the 45-day ECQ up to April 30, that will come up to P160 billion. If we save five percent, that is P80 billion in additional funds for financial aid to 18 million poor and near-poor families affected by the lockdown,” he said.

In a Viber message, Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said one of the funding sources could be the unutilized P55 billion motor vehicle user’s charge (MVUC) funds.

Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman, for his part, questioned the projected discontinuance and reallocation for the COVID-19 response of P158.554-billion worth of capital outlays, saying that it “raises a number of fundamental problems and overriding issues.” It was included in the President’s second weekly report to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee created under Republic Act No. 11469 or the “Bayanihan To Heal As One Act.”

“It negates the income-generating reality of infrastructure projects particularly for workers in the grassroots.The resumption of all infrastructure projects after the lockdown is an economic stimulus,” Lagman said. He reminded the government that infrastructure development is the engine of growth and that the investors, both foreign and local, consider the adequacy of infrastructure as a major incentive for investment.

“The discontinuance and reallocation of appropriated projects in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) in order to generate forced or contrived savings have been outlawed by the Supreme Court in Araullo vs. Aquino which declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional,” he added.

Instead of discontinuing and reallocating appropriated projects, Lagman said ample savings can be sourced from the unutilized MOOE during lockdown; drastic reduction of foreign travel, trainings and seminars, and purchases of non-essential office equipment and other expenditures under MOOE; and a 10-percent reduction across the board of MOOE in all departments and agencies to excise budgetary fat.

The veteran lawmaker said savings can also be sourced from the following: suspension of procurement of military hardware and IT equipment and facilities reduction of budgetary support to government corporations; suspension of the creation of new government positions, including additional diplomatic and consular posts; and suspension of the establishment of new executive departments.

The savings can also be generated from the scrapping of procurement of professional services and hiring of consultants, suspension of agencies’ subscription and advertisements, and reduction of intelligence and confidential funds.

Lagman said the government can sustain the implementation of its social amelioration packages, as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) recently infused P300-billion to the National Treasury. “The BSP purchased government securities from the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) under a repurchase agreement in the amount of P300-billion with a maximum repayment period of six months,” he said.

He said in a telephone conversation on Monday, April 6, afternoon that the National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon informed him that P300-billion has been remitted to the BTr to “provide an extra lifeline to the national government to support the programs to fight this pandemic.”

“Since the expected revenues from the collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) have not been realized due to the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 menace, the amounts necessary to fund the allocations under the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for social and labor amelioration can be sourced from BSP’s fund relief,” Lagman said.

He said, among others, the unreleased portions of the following appropriations under the 2020 GAA can be funded from the subject P300-billion: The Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) P8,733,927,000 for “protective services for individuals and families in especially difficult circumstances,” and P108,765,970,000 for “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program,” The Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) P9,941,858,000 for “Workers Protection and Welfare,” P6,787,305,000 for “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers-Government Internship Program” (TUPAD-GIP) and P423,126,000 livelihood program, The Department of Health’s (DOH) P19,090,000,000 “for the purchase and allocation of drugs, medicines and vaccines,” P10,500,000,000 “for the social health protection program,” P2,033,000,000 “for family health, nutrition and responsible parenting,” The President’s contingent fund of P12,000,000,000, and The National Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) or calamity fund of P16,000,000,000, as well as the various quick response funds (QRFs).

“These multi-billion funds which have comprehensive budgetary purposes can be funded and released without the need of reprogramming, reallocation or realignment by President Duterte, and even without the enactment of the so-called “Bayanihan Act”,” Lagman said.

For her part, ACT Teachers partylist Rep. France Castro said following his admission that the government does not have enough funds to fight the COVID-19 virus, President Duterte should “let go of his presidential black budget or the confidential and intelligence funds, and presidential and congressional pork barrel.”

He said the government should rechannel such funds to aggressively ramp up the public health care system to enable it to cope up with the COVID crisis. “He can also choose to suspend debt servicing. The Duterte administration simply has to prioritize funding for public health facilities, infrastructure and programs and social welfare measures over these greasy and non-productive funding items,” she said.

“This pandemic should not be used as a pretext for more taxes of borrowing,” she warned.