By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte said the government will continue giving assistance to poor Filipino families amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic despite the government already running low on funds to address the outbreak.
In his remarks at the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases aired Friday morning, President Duterte assured the public that the government will do everything to help them during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period which was extended until May 15 in selected places.
“Tulong sa tao (The assistance to the people) will continue. We will not reduce the volume at this time but we are running low on funds,” he said.
According to the President, he already asked various government agencies to set aside, for now, their projects so the government can use the money to address the pandemic.
“‘Wag na muna ‘yan, minus ‘yan, minus. Lahat para makapag-ipon at kinuha na yung budget na yung regular budget sana kung walang COVID (Let’s not think about those projects for now. We should get what we can. We’re already getting from the original budget),” he said.
Duterte reiterated that he is willing to sell government assets as a last resort so the government can continue helping the public.
“But we are making sure, Sonny (Dominguez) has said earlier in the previous meeting, that if the funds are not sufficient, they will have to borrow. Then if the borrowed money is not enough, then we have to sell the assets,” he said.
“Why am I talking this way? There is no telling how long–gaano katagal itong COVID sa buhay natin (long do we have to endure this COVID-19 pandemic),” he added.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado both said during the same meeting that the Philippines has already spent P352.7 billion of the P397 billion that the government can use from the P4.1 trillion 2020 national budget.
“‘Yan po ang problema natin ngayon. May cash ho tayo pero wala tayong authority na gumastos ng ganoon kalaki (That’s our problem now. We have sufficient cash but we are not authorized to spend that big),” Dominguez said in his remarks, adding that the Department of Finance (DOF) has already borrowed funds from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
“We’re making sure na lahat ng gastos natin ay (that every money we spend is), number one for the benefit of the… yung pinakamahirap sa bayan natin (the poorest of the poor in our country),” he added.
Dominguez likewise said that the government is reserving funds for the Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects so the country can invest in it once the pandemic is over.
“We will create jobs and we will create business opportunities with that,” he explained.
Avisado, for his part, said the country should consider the possibility of a second wave (of virus infections) so the government can come up with a plan, especially that P352 billion was already spent for COVID-19 response.
“Kaunting-kaunti na lang ang natitira (We have very little left). But where else can we go?” he said.
“I-consider natin yung (Let us consider the) possibility of a second wave. ‘Pag mag-second wave, paano yun (When that happens, what should we do)?” he added.
“We have to come up with a forward-planning on what will be the direction and that would require a lot of funding. The new normal should allow us to provide more jobs to the people para maging productive sila (so they will become productive),” he continued.