Bulk of P352-B spent for COVID-19 response went to emergency subsidies for poor families, workers

Photo: A diagram of the four pillar strategy pushed by the Philippine Governnment to deal with the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic,

The government has thus far spent around P258 billion, or 73 percent of the P352 billion it has released for its coronavirus response programs, on emergency subsidies and other forms of assistance to poor and low-income households, displaced workers and other vulnerable groups reeling from the work stoppage resulting from the global health crisis.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the P352-billion unplanned fund releases, which mostly involved reprogramming of existing appropriations in the 2019 and 2020 budgets, to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, came from the tax collections of state revenue agencies; income from actual dividend collections from government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs); and concessional loans and grants provided by multilateral lenders such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank.

Data gathered by the Department of Finance (DOF) from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) show that as of April 23, the government has released a total of P200.42 billion for the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) and other economic relief measures for poor households and other vulnerable groups. This amount was released by the DBM to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which implements the SAP cash subsidies to some 18 million households.

Another P6.435 billion was released to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for its assistance program for workers affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon and similar containment measures imposed by local government units (LGUs) in other parts of the country in a bid to stop the spread of COVID 19. A total of P51 billion was released to the Social Security System (SSS) for the implementation of the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) program for some 3.4 million qualified workers of 1.6 million small businesses.

The rest of the P352 billion spent by the government so far for its COVID-19 response efforts went to the Department of Health (DOH) for the procurement of testing kits, and other essential medical supplies to contain the spread of the virus; the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for the production of locally produced COVID-19 testing kits; other state agencies to finance the budget requirements for the temporary COVID-19 treatment and monitoring facilities, and the emergency repatriation of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs); and the LGUs for the allocation of the Bayanihan Grants to provinces, cities and municipalities.

“So far, supisiyente po yung cash natin pero naiipit na po tayo sa budget allowance natin (So far, we have sufficient cash but we are limited in our budget allowance),” Dominguez said at the Friday televised briefing of President Duterte and select Cabinet officials belonging to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). “Yan po ang problema natin ngayon. May cash tayo pero wala ho tayong authority gumastos ng ganun kalaki (That’s our problem now. We have cash but we don’t have the authority to spend that big),” he added. Thus, he said, the government is making sure that the bulk of its COVID-19—related spending goes to the poorest families in the country. Meanwhile, Dominguez said the government is keeping the budget for its “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure projects intact to create jobs and revitalize the economy once COVID-19 is effectively contained.

“So we’re making sure na lahat ng gastos natin ay number one, for the benefit of ‘yung pinakamahirap sa bayan natin at rinereserba ho natin ‘yung balanse para sa mga ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects (So we’re making sure that all our spending is number, one, for the benefit of the poorest in our country and we are reserving the balance for our ‘Build, Build., Build’ projects).

We will create jobs and we will create business opportunities with that,” he said. The expanded budgetary powers granted by the Congress to the President under Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act a week after the implementation of the ECQ has enabled the government to formulate a four-pillar socioeconomic strategy to blunt the impact of COVID-19 on the Filipino people and the economy.

This four-pillar strategy, he said, has a combined value, so far, of $29.3 billion (P1.49 trillion) or about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). It covers the following: (1) providing poor and low-income households, small-business employees and other vulnerable groups emergency and wage subsidies; (2) marshalling the country’s medical resources and ensuring the safety of healthcare frontliners; (3) fiscal and monetary actions to finance emergency initiatives and keep the economy afloat, and (4) an economic recovery plan to create jobs and sustain growth in the post-quarantine scenario.