Press Release
March 31, 2020

Drilon to gov't: 'Do we have enough funds to fight COVID-19?'

Do we have enough funds to fight COVID-19?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised this question Tuesday as he urged the government to speed up the implementation of the P200 billion aid to low-income households and the immediate release of funding for programs identified in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

On Monday night, President Duterte announced that his administration has allotted a total of P200 billion in assistance to poor Filipino families, including farmers, and fisherfolk, to help them fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Marami po sa ating mga kababayan ang nagugutom na. 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 equiipment (PPEs), mechanical ventilators, among others," Drilon added as he pointed out the number of affected COVID-19 patients continue to rise.

Drilon, however, raised concerns that the lack of sufficient funds will undermine government interventions to fight COVID-19.

Due to the pandemic and the lockdown, Drilon said revenue collections are greatly affected and government disbursements, which account for roughly 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, are expected to slow down.

"Our tight fiscal space seriously affects the government's capabilty to address COVID-19," Drilon said.

Drilon said that this would make the government dependent on loan and aid to address the pandemic, hence the slow responses.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has earlier committed to provide P300 billion loan to the Duterte adminitration to address the pandemic on top of the P20 billion it has remitted as advance dividend to the government.

The Department of Finance also said that GOCCS or government-owned and -controlled coporations have committed P100 billion for COVID-19 response.

For their part part, the Philippine Port Authority, the Manila International Aiport Authority, and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, GOCCs under the Department of Transportation, have already remitted in advance P10 billion in dividends to fortify the government spending measures against the pandemic.

During the hearing on the supplemental budget to address COVID-19, Drilon noted that the Bureau of Treasury that only P1.65 billion in excess funds are available to be realigned to the DOH.

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

For 2019, the Bureau of Internal Revenue has collected P2.176 trillion, which is lower than the agency's revenue target of P2.271 trillion. Similarly, the Bureau of Customs also fell short by P30.7 bllion of the P661 billion target for the year.

"The government must brace for the worst: our depleting resources and the economic effects of COVID-19," said Drilon, lamenting that the Duterte administration's response to COVID-19 is lacking in many aspects, lacking 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 a lockdown," Drion said.

Worse, he added, some of the much-needed allotments 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," Drilon noted.

Drilon emphasized that RA 11469 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.

He, however, pointed out that the President's first report stated that as of 27 March 2020, no special purpose funds (SPFs) have been utilized for COVID-19 measures except for the P500 million replenishment of the 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," he said.

"For one, has the governent augmented our health workforce? The 2020 budget has funds for the hiring of nurses and doctors under the Miscellaneous and Personell Benefit Fund," he said.

Drilon thus called for the immediate release of funds for programs identified in the law, including 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.

Drilon also said that the national government should enhance its collaboration with the local government units.

"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 said.

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