BY AARON MACARAEG
MANILA – In just one week, President Rodrigo Duterte changed his tune.
On Monday, April 6, Duterte claimed the government does not have enough funds to support all the households affected by the COVID-19 lockdown. A week before, he said in his public address, “Huwag na huwag kayong matakot kasi sabi ko may pera ako.” (Don’t be afraid because I have the money.”
His recent statement irked Bayan Muna, saying Duterte only wants to save himself from his administration’s inactions.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said in a statement, “There are billions in the budget that are yet untapped which were actually contained in his Report but President Duterte is very slow and inefficient in tapping these funds.”
Zarate was referring to Duterte’s second weekly report as mandated under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The Deputy Minority Leader noted that while Duterte’s report admitted that there are billions in “unreleased appropriations,” the administration is still “crafting guidelines” for release of livelihood assistance, the Land Bank is still “expected to commence payout” to jeepney drivers, the Department of Budget and Management is “about to release grant to local government units” and the Social Welfare Secretary is still “exploring the most efficient methods of transfer and distribution of assistance.”
“The COVID virus hit the world in January and the Philippines had COVID cases by February, and yet by April, President Duterte’s administration is still crafting guidelines,” Zarate said.
The legislator recalled that Duterte promised to get all the funds if given emergency powers through the Bayanihan Law. “But until now, many are still left without help from government,” he said.
Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares pointed out that the Duterte administration could tap at least P291 billion for COVID-19 response. He cited the following possible sources:
a) Projects to be discontinued [unreleased appropriations] – P189.823 billion
b) PPA, MIAA, CAAP advanced remittances – P10 billion
c) Cebu Ports Authority – P500 million
d) Collected dividends from 12 GOCCs – P78.6 billion
e) Department of Energy unutilized funds – P12.34 billion
f) Many more items from PCSO, and government agencies
Colmenares added Duterte could also use the P154.1 billion previously allocated to 4Ps, Quick Response Funds, Social Pension fund and other budget items.
“The problem here is that there is no transparency. The Duterte administration did not include the billions in overall savings in his budget reports since 2017,” said Colmenares.