“Instead of overburdening the LGUs, particularly the barangays, the concerned executive departments with embedded QRF should also maximize the use of these funds to immediately augment the needs of our people to combat COVID-19 and its effects.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Bayan Muna called on all departments of the national government with Quick Response Funds (QRF) to utilize its budget for the fight against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019).
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate issued the appeal as several local government units (LGUs) and barangays pointed out that their own quick reaction funds would be inadequate to support their constituents for the entire quarantine period.
Citing the 2020 General Appropriations Act, Zarate said several departments have a total of P6.8 billion QRF. Below is the breakdown:
Department of Education – Office of the Secretary = P2.1 billion
Department of Agriculture – Office of the Secretary = P1.5 billion
Department of Social Welfare and Development – Office of the Secretary = P1.25 billion
Department of Public Works and Highways = P1 billion
Department of National Defense – Office of Civil Defense = P250 million
Budgetary Support to Government Owned and Controlled Corporations = P100 million
Department of Health – Office of the Secretary = P6 million
“Instead of overburdening the LGUs, particularly the barangays, the concerned executive departments with embedded QRF should also maximize the use of these funds to immediately augment the needs of our people to combat COVID-19 and its effects,” Zarate said.
On March 16, President Duterte said that barangay captains will provide for their constituents if their supplies such as food ran out for the whole duration of the enhanced community quarantine. This is after the government placed the whole of Luzon on lockdown until April 12.
Zarate said the QRF of the departments is different from the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund (LDRRMF) which is now being accessed by the LGUs as a response to the effects of COVID-19.
Realign other funds
Meanwhile, the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) called for the realignment of the P36.4 billion National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) budget, P546 million Oplan Tokhang funds, and the P4.5 billion Office of the President confidential and intelligence funds to the health sector.
CEGP National President Daryl Angelo Baybado said these funds should be tapped to make mass testing possible.
‘What is tourism budget for?’
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) is dismayed over the big chunk of allocated funds for the Department of Tourism in the P27.1-billion package to provide economic relief to sectors affected of the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the total amount, or P14 billion, is allotted to fund projects of the Department of Tourism. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III reasoned out that the tourism sector is the most affected sector.
AHW President Robert Mendoza said the funds could be used for purchasing medical equipment for government hospitals where patients are swelling due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as test kits.
The group also lamented the exclusion of health workers welfare in the so-called relief funds. “They don’t even grant our call for a higher health budget and allocate more funds intended to our health workers personal protective equipment. Where is the heart of this government?” Mendoza said.
Other than the P14 billion, the package also include P3.1 billion for the purchase of test kits; P2 billion as initial budget of Department of Labor and Employment’s social protection programs for vulnerable workers, to be used for wage subsidy/financial support to COVID-19 affected establishments and workers; P1.2 billion in Social Security Services to cover unemployment benefits for dislocated workers among others.
Independent think tank Ibon Foundation also questioned the P14-billion allocation in the tourism sector saying that “none of the infrastructure projects have anything to do with COVID-19 response.”
Ibon Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa asked, “How will spending on Boracay water drainage, rehabilitation of Burnham Park in Baguio, a sewage treatment plant in Coron, and masterplanning of tourism sites, for instance, help us battle COVID-19?”
“This is a gross disservice to our health workers on the frontlines, to those who are still working to ensure basic goods and services, and to the millions of Filipinos whose lives and livelihoods have been displaced by the lockdown,” Africa said.