President Rodrigo Duterte in his latest late night address ordered Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to “generate” more funds for the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak despite being granted a hefty budget under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
In his prerecorded national address aired late Monday, the chief executive said that the P100 billion budget released for the government’s social amelioration program and the P270 billion cash aid allocated for low-income families are not enough to support the Filipinos during the health crisis.
“Maghiram o mag… The 100 billion pesos for one month or the 270 billion pesos for two months, ‘yan naka-program na as earlier estimated, is not enough. I’m calling on the Secretary of Finance to generate,” Duterte said last night.
The social amelioration program is a two-month emergency subsidy intended to support the members of the vulnerable sectors whose livelihoods were extremely affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile, the P275 billion budget is the emergency fund the Congress authorized Duterte to spend for the pandemic efforts of the government.
“Magnakaw ka, maghiram ka, wala akong pakialam, i-produce mo ‘yung pera kasi ‘pag naubos na ito… Hindi ko malaman,” Duterte continued as he addressed Dominguez.
He mentioned that the government is “exploring options to realign the budget” toward pandemic-related efforts by reducing or removing certain projects’ funds to be redirected to COVID-19 responses.
Reclamation in exchange for aid?
Duterte also said that he is willing to sell Dewey Boulevard or Roxas Boulevard in exchange for rice.
“Ilang buwan lang ang reserba natin. Talagang ako handa akong
ipagbili ‘yung buong Dewey Boulevard sa gustong mag-reclaim. Bigyan ninyo ako ng bigas, i-approve ko ‘yung — kasi hindi ak pumayag na magreclaim,” the president said in his April 6 nation address.
“Because a reclamation sa Manila Bay would trap sa environmentally — mag-collapse ang Manila,” he added.
On Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles clarified that Duterte has not approved reclamation activities in Manila Bay.
“Unless you see a paper to that effect signed by him, then no, status quo pa rin,” Nograles said in a virtual press briefing.
According to a GMA News report, Duterte in February said “he would no longer allow massive land reclamations by the private sector until the end of his term in 2022.”
2nd Congress weekly report
Hours before the recorded address national address was aired, the Office of the President submitted the second weekly report to the Congress which is supposed to include how the emergency funds were utilized and reprogrammed.
1/2 Report No. 2 (April 6, 2020): Senate President Vicente Sotto III informs the people of the Second Report of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee pursuant to Section 5 of Republic Act 11469
— Senate of the Philippines (@senatePH) April 7, 2020
Among the details featured in the president’s second report is the introduction of the Livelihood Assistance Grant Program for micros-enterprises and financial assistance to be given to local government units for COVID-19-related measures.
Calls for transparency
When Duterte addressed the nation for the second time after the Bayanihan Act or Republic 11469 was implemented, calls for budget transparency once again surfaced on social media.
Some groups noted that his speech lacked updates on how he allocated the emergency fund during the first week of the law’s implementation despite submitting his report to Congress prior.
“40 minutes in and Duterte admits he does not know when aid will arrive, nor where funds will come from; despite the grant of emergency powers and the 275B stimulus package granted under the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act,” progressive group Anakbayan said.
“Stop the nonsense, Duterte. We are tired of your bedtime stories. What the Filipino people need to hear every Monday is the breakdown of the P275 billion emergency fund,” the League of Filipino Students said.
A satire Twitter account made a rundown of how big the emergency fund is by breaking down how it could’ve been spent on medical supplies and health workers’ salaries in the middle of a global health crisis.
“That’s how big it is,” the account said.
Each of the following is equal to P275 BILLION:
– A year's pay for 1 Million Nurses
– Year's pay for 900K to 1 Million Doctors
– 275 Million to 687 Million PPE sets
– 17 Million Face Masks
– 550 Hospitals
– 5,500 Cayetano 50M-calderos
— Superficial Gazette 🇵🇭 (@SuperficialGZT) April 2, 2020
A political scientist also pointed out that the government “should have around P625B in cash,” based on a citizen’s budget tracker started by Kenneth Abante, a research faculty at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“In Apr 6 version of citizens’ budget tracker by @KenAbante et al, they estimate that the gov’t should have around P625B in cash BUT the status of a huge chunk of it (P483B) is unclear. Treasury/DOF should confirm & be transparent,” Cleve Arguelles said in response to Duterte’s speech.
The “Citizen’s Budget Tracker” is initiated by Abante. This project aims to track the government’s budget allocation and spending in light of the pandemic through collective efforts of data scientists, auditors, budget specialists and other volunteers.
[VERSION 1] #COVID19PH Citizens' Budget Report and Tracker – 6 April 2020(Filipino translation in the comments section…
It also seeks to provide a comprehensive breakdown of how the emergency fund is being utilized by the government as a way to hold them accountable for the taxpayers’ money.
As of April 7, the report said that the “status of the P483 billion of the P625 in cash sources” is still undetermined.
Calls for the government to be more transparent about the funds allotted for COVID-19 response surfaced a week after Duterte signed the Bayanihan Act.
The law gave him the authority to “reprogram, reallocate and realign” the funds to be used for COVID-19 response efforts which include benefits for health workers, financial aid to the urban poor and procurement of medical necessities.
Among those who questioned the budget’s spending a week after the law was implemented include human rights lawyer Chel Diokno who reminded the public that Duterte is mandated to give a report about how the budget was utilized so far.
“Ayon sa Bayanihan Act, trabaho ng Pangulo mag-report kada Lunes kung saan pumunta ang 275B na pondo. Trabaho natin maging maalam para protektahan ang ating pamilya at komunidad,” Diokno tweeted.
Under the new law, the chief executive is required to submit a weekly report to the Congress every Monday about budget allocation in light of the pandemic. It states:
“The President, during Monday of every week, shall submit a weekly report to Congress of all acts performed pursuant to this Act during the immediately preceding week. The report shall likewise include the amount and corresponding utilization of the funds used, augmented, reprogrammed, reallocated and realigned pursuant to this act.”