Roque: 1/4th of Bayanihan 2 funds unused

The national government still has to spend a quarter of the country’s second, about P165-billion stimulus package for the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said Wednesday, adding another cash injection remained “premature.”

Economic managers are “not sure” if a third stimulus package is necessary because “25 percent of Bayanihan 2 still has to be spent and number 2, of course, we have trillions of pesos in stimulus package embedded already in the 2021 Budget,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Bayanihan 2 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act allows the President to realign funds to address the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The President has extended the legislation’s validity until June 30, 2021.

Asked why one-fourth of Bayanihan 2 funds remained unused, Roque said, “I don’t think there’s any justification for not spending it at the time when people need it, but let’s just say that we need a little more time to spend it.”

Around P53 billion or almost half of the Bayanihan 2 funds were allocated for the support of medical workers tending to COVID-19 patients.

But last week, a group of workers from three government hospitals protested the delay of their allowances.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco and Marikina City 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo filed last week a bill seeking a third, P420-billion stimulus package dubbed as Bayanihan 3.

Sen. Grace Poe said Wednesday she would like to know where funds would be sourced for Bayanihan 3, and how these would be spent.

The country’s debt is currently at P10 trillion, with P2 trillion more set in 2022, she said.

“That’s a factor to be considered and that is a factor being considered by Secretary Dominguez. And that is why while we appreciative of Bayanihan 3, we’re saying, perhaps, it’s a bit premature as of yet,” said Roque.

Economic managers would like to refrain from following the example of Malaysia which borrowed heavily “because we want the flexibility to have the money when we actually need it,” he said.

The Philippine government has so far amassed a total of $13.34 billion or approximately P640.96 billion in loans for its COVID-19 response, DOF data as of Dec. 15, 2020 show.

The amount of loans nearly doubled since July 1, 2020, when total government loans for COVID-19 response stood at $7.73 billion (approximately P371.67 billion).

In a related development, an opposition lawmaker appealed Wednesday to President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as urgent the P420-billion Bayanihan 3 bill that aims boost the country’s COVID-19 economic recovery.

Quimbo made the pitch, stressing once enacted, House Bill 8628 or the proposed “Bayanihan to Arise As One Act” would be the third installment of the government’s response to COVID-19 and its devastating impact on the economy.

“‘As they say, third time is a charm; but if the President is able to certify this bill as urgent, the better,” Quimbo said at a news forum.

She added: “If there is one indisputable thing, that is the economy has turned out worse than what we had all expected and even the President agrees with this.”

Quimbo said the government needs to infuse a substantial amount into the economy to prevent what she called “stagflation” or a combination of stagnant economy and high inflation.

She noted that compared to other Asian countries, the Philippines spent too little against its gross domestic product or GDP in 2020.

She said the President himself admitted that the economy was in a bad state, referring to the country’s 9.3 percent economic contraction in 2020, which is the worst performance in the nation’s post-war history.

“One of the main drivers of the decline is the decrease of 7.9 percent in household consumption. Meanwhile, government spending only contributed 1.3 percent to GDP growth last year.”

HB 8628 seeks to allocate P420-billion fund for the implementation of much-needed COVID-19 response as well as recovery interventions grounded on economic inclusivity and collective growth.

The bill proposes to allocate P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households, P100 billion for capacity-building for impacted sectors, P52 billion for wage subsidies, P70 billion for capacity-building for agricultural producers, P30 billion for internet allowances to students and

teachers, P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers, P25 billion for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines, and P5 billion for the rehabilitation of areas impacted by recent floods and typhoons.

These funding proposals were not considered in the National Expenditure Program, which Malacañang submitted last year to assist Congress in the review, deliberation and passage of the national budget for 2021.

“We learn lessons Bayanihan 1 at 2 and Speaker Velasco said let’s identify mechanism for assistance that are simple and can be effectively implemented,” Quimbo added.

“In Bayanihan 3, Speaker Velasco said he does not have a list on who’s included and who’s not. Because everyone is covered,” Quimbo said of the cash assistance component of HB 8628.

Quimbo said that the Bayanihan 2’s appropriation of P165 billion and the 2021 national budget’s P250 billion in COVID response items are “clearly insufficient to make up for our economic losses in 2020, which are estimated to be at P3.2 trillion.”

She also said that the government should have no problem allocating P420 billion as she claims that the country has P1.6 trillion cash balance as of November 2020.

At the same time, Quimbo urged critics to look closely at Bayanihan 3 and how it can halt the steep decline of the country’s economy brought about by economic output stagnation and increase in inflation.

At the latest count, 173 members of the supermajority, minority, and independent blocs in the House of Representatives have manifested their support for HB 8628.

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