Senator Panfilo Lacson said he wants an explanation on the need for a supplemental budget to address the COVID-19 crisis when there’s still an unused P989 billion from the 2019 budget during last year’s third quarter.
He said the unused budget of the legislative, judiciary, and constitutional commissions are not yet included there.
He said the validity of some of the portions in the General Appropriations Act, such as maintenance and other operating expenses and capital outlays, have been extended to Dec. 31.
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Since Congress has given the President the authority to realign budget items, these unused appropriations could be used, Lacson said.
He called on the country’s economic managers to explain why a supplemental budget is needed.
“We have savings--the unused funds from 2019. We can still use that since the validity was extended,” Lacson said in Filipino.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the government needs authorization from Congress to tap more funds for COVID-19 response.
In a radio interview, he said he was confident that lawmakers would grant such a request.
Congress passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gave President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to effectively respond to the crisis, in a marathon special session on March 23.
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Lawmakers then said that there are around P275 billion off-budget funds that can be used to help address the COVID-19 crisis on top of the funds from the 2020 General Appropriations Act that can also be tapped.
Government data showed that P352.7 billion out of the P397-billion available funds have been spent already for COVID-19 response, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier said the funding required to address the COVID-19 crisis has been raised by the government to P1.49 trillion.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III also questioned the need for a supplemental budget, however, saying the new Bayanihan to Heal as One Act already gave the President the power to realign the budget to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Also on Sunday, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano assailed what he called the Department of Budget and Management’s “very untransparent” withholding of 35 percent of programmed appropriations under the P4.1-trillion national government budget for 2020.
The DBM, Cayetano said,” should be open about what items in the 2020 General Appropriations Act will be withheld supposedly to augment funds for the COVID-19 response.
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“This should be done openly. What are the programs that will be scrapped? What programs will be postponed? This cannot be done. The DBM should not take it upon himself to determine which programs to scrap and then explain it to the Congress later in a hearing,” Cayetano told a radio interview.
This developed as Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo on Sunday said that funds for infrastructure projects under the 2020 national budget should be left untouched to provide the economy the stimulus it needs during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quimbo warned that reducing spending for infrastructure programs at this crucial time when the government needs to keep the economy afloat would lead to a significant decline in gross domestic product growth as well as over a million in job losses.
In echoing the call of Cayetano, Quimbo, member for the minority bloc of the House appropriations committee, urged the DBM to reconsider its austerity measure on cutting allocations for government programs not related to efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure that funds remain intact for infrastructure projects that are necessary to create jobs and help the economy withstand the impact of this global health crisis.
“Given its multiplier effects, a conservative estimate would show that a P100 billion loss in the infrastructure budget would translate into a corresponding drop in GDP valued at P300 billion,” said Quimbo, the co-chairman of the economic cluster of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee in the House of Representatives.
Quimbo said that if labor accounts for 37 percent of the P100-billion cut in infrastructure spending, then the loss in wages would amount to P111 billion.
“If workers are paid P500 per day for 22 days per month for a period of six months, then total wages would amount to P66,000 per worker. Hence, a loss of P111 billion in wages for every P100-billion cut in infrastructure spending would mean 1.68 million workers losing their jobs,” said Quimbo.
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Quimbo recalled that the head of the economic team, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, has also underscored the need to sustain funding for infrastructure projects to help restart the economy and generate jobs and other livelihood opportunities once the COVID-19 pandemic is effectively contained.
Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, meanwhile, reiterated his proposal for a reboot of “Build, Build, Build” with construction activities declared as essential services that are allowed to operate but subject to strict health protocols.
“‘Build, Build, Build’ will enable the country to achieve a V-shaped or quick recovery as infrastructure investments have the highest multiplier effects on the economy, including the generation of jobs,” Villafuerte said. “Creating a lot of jobs will go a long way in reversing the surge in unemployment brought about by the economic standstill.”
To protect construction workers from COVID-19, Villafuerte said their employers should be made to strictly observe social distancing along with other health and safety protocols such as the wearing of masks, regular monitoring of their body temperature, the establishment of sanitation stations and use of disinfectants, and provision of lodging so the workers wouldn’t have to commute and go home to their families every day.