Does gov’t have enough funds for COVID-19 response? Here’s what budget trackers, think tank say

August 13, 2020 - 2:48 PM
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A woman gets a free coronavirus disease (COVID-19) swab testing at a gymnasium in Navotas City, Metro Manila, Philippines, August 7, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Several independent trackers for the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic claimed that there are still funds contrary to the Palace’s remarks.

In his recent televised national addresses, President Rodrigo Duterte had been making claims that the government no longer has enough money to help the economy and the health sector cope with the worsening health crisis in the country.

During his address last Monday, August 11, Duterte maintained that the money Congress granted to him under the now-expired Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act which was worth P275 billion had long been released to the social amelioration program.

He also expressed his dilemma of choosing between the country’s health and economy.

“Nabigyan kayo ng ayuda, ‘yung pera panggastos. Wala na ako niyan. Sabi, on your own ka? Totoo. Kailangan lumabas ka para maghanapbuhay para makakain,” Duterte said.

During the press briefing on the same day, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque reiterated Duterte’s claim on the government’s lack of funds to provide financial assistance to Filipinos as the main reason why it’s “highly unlikely” to extend the modified enhanced community quarantine in Mega Manila.

Roque cited that Metro Manila loses at least P18 billion every day during the MECQ and noted that this could get worse if the country reverted to the tougher ECQ version.

“Ang Presidente naman po, straight forward, transparent, wala na pong ayuda para doon sa hindi makapagtrabaho kaya kinakailangan po mabuhay, despite and in spite; protektahan po natin ang ating kalusugan ng tayo po ay makasulong sa ating pang-araw-araw na buhay,” he said.

Early this August, Duterte approved to revert Mega Manila—the National Capital Region and nearby provinces Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan— to MECQ from August 4 to 18.

This decision came after the medical sector sent a distress call to the government and proposed tighter measures for 15 days amid the continued surge of infections in the region.

Some health workers and scientists, however, expressed disappointment online, saying that Duterte still failed to address the country’s health care woes.

A look at government’s budget

In a Twitter thread on August 4, the account for a budget tracker initiated by political scientist Kenneth Abante called the “Citizen’s Budget Tracker” bared that as of end-June, the government managed to raise P3 million in cash from revenues and debt.

“YES, WE HAVE CASH TO FIGHT COVID-19,” the tweet read.

The page stated that of the P3 trillion, the government had already spent P2 trillion of it, therefore leaving net cash raised worth P988 billion.

Of the P2 trillion spent, a hefty P410 billion was transferred to bank accounts of local government units across the country.

However, the tracker bared that not all LGUs reported their COVID-19 spending, citing a similar budget tracker from Gumaca, Quezon to adopt.

“We urge LGUs to follow Gumaca, Quezon’s example and report COVID-19 spending. In the last President’s Report (June 29) only P5.5 B of P37 B in Bayanihan LGU Grants is reported spent,” a separate tweet read.

Data to trace the government’s spending for COVID-19 response was further detailed in the Google document attached on the user’s profile.

In terms of financial assistance, citizen and software engineer James Faeldon developed an interactive map to trace where all the money the Department of Social Welfare and Development released went.

The data on the map was also sourced from the DSWD’s situational reports.

As of writing, a total of P12.18 billion was released which covered the country’s 17 regions.

Financial assistance tracker by James Faeldon

For specified data of releases, the Department of Budget and Management also has a COVID-19 tracker of how the budget provided by the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was distributed.

In a report about the government’s current fiscal capacity, think tank Ibon Foundation likewise stated that the government has enough money, but it is being “thrifty” amid the crisis.

“The country is facing an unprecedented crisis and this is not the time to be thrifty. A much larger and better designed fiscal stimulus is needed right away to avert deep and lasting hardship,” part of its report read.