Photo: Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez (DOF)
President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team has announced a P27.1-billion package of priority actions to help frontliners fight the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and provide economic relief to people and sectors affected by the virus-induced slowdown in economic activity.
The package consists of government initiatives to better equip our health authorities in fighting COVID-19 and also for the relief and recovery efforts for infected people and the various sectors now reeling from the adverse impact of the lethal pathogen.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who chairs the Duterte Cabinet's Economic Development Cluster (EDC), said on Monday the measures in the package “are designed to do two things: First is to ensure that funding is available for the efforts of the Department of Health (DOH) to contain the spread of COVID-19. Second is to provide economic relief to those whose businesses and livelihoods have been affected by the spread of this disease.”
“As directed by President Duterte, the government will provide targeted and direct programs to guarantee that benefits will go to our workers and other affected sectors. We have enough but limited resources, so our job is to make sure that we have sufficient funds for programs mitigating the adverse effects of COVID-19 on our economy,” he added.
This fiscal support package crafted by President Duterte's economic team includes:
· The mobilization of an additional P3.1 billion to contribute directly to efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the acquisition of test kits. The funds came from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB);
· P2.0 billion representing the initial budget set aside by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for social protection programs for vulnerable workers, to be used for wage subsidy/financial support to COVID affected establishments and workers;
· Mobilization of an existing P1.2 billion in the Social Security System (SSS) to cover unemployment benefits for dislocated workers;
· The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)'s Scholarship Programs amounting to P3 billion will support affected and temporarily displaced workers through upskilling and reskilling. It is also offering free courses for all who would like to acquire new skills in the convenience of their own homes, mobile phones and computers through the TESDA Online Program;
· Various programs and projects of the Department of Tourism (DOT) amounting to P14 billion from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to support the tourism industry;
· P2.8 billion for the Survival and Recovery (SURE) Aid Program of the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Credit Policy Council (DA-ACPC), which provides loans of up to P25,000 each at zero interest for smallholder farmers and fisherfolk affected by calamity and disasters. This initiative includes a one-year moratorium without interest on payments of outstanding loan obligations of small farmers and fisherfolk (SFF) borrowers under the ACPC Credit Program amounting to P2.03 billion; and
· P1 billion allotted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for its Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-Asenso (P3) Microfinancing special loan package of the Small Business Corp. (SBC) for affected micro entrepreneurs/micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Also included is the DTI’s ongoing assistance in finding new supply sources and non-traditional markets for industries affected by supply chain disruptions and the conduct of trade and investment missions to support the continued operation of industry;
Additional support mechanisms identified by the Economic Development Cluster include the following:
· A loan program of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) intended for affected government employees and retirees;
· Mobilization of funds from government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCCs) to assist airlines and the rest of the tourism industry;
· Programs of the largest government banks to help address the impact of the health emergency, such as the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP)'s Rehabilitation Support Program on Severe Events (RESPONSE), which provides public and private institutions in areas declared under a state of calamity with low-interest loans under a simplified application procedure; and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK)' offer of restructured loan amortizations by giving longer tenor and grace periods, with the option of a fixed interest rate under the LANDBANK Calamity Rehabilitation Support (LBP CARES); and
· The grant of temporary and rediscounting relief measures for financial institutions, as approved by the Monetary Board (MB). Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno earlier said that, “the MB is ready to deploy any or all its policy tools, as appropriate, to address all challenges to our own financial markets and growth prospects.”
Secretary Dominguez also said the government will go ahead on regular budgeted expenditures, as accelerated government spending is now even more necessary to stimulate economic activity and provide direct support to vulnerable groups and individuals.
“The country and the government have all the tools—medical, financial and monetary—to successfully handle this situation,” he said.
The state economic managers also reassured the public that the impact of COVID-19 on the government’s key programs is expected to be limited.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado has given the assurance that funds for 'Build, Build, Build' projects and all other government projects currently being implemented as well as those for implementation "are available and government purchases for equipment and supplies needed by the DOH and other vital goods and services, including those of the military and the police shall go on unhampered by the current situation.”
According to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, the one-month community quarantine of the National Capital Region (NCR) may have a transitory impact on the economy, but needs to be closely monitored for necessary adjustments.
He emphasized that the protocols already put in place are meant to safeguard the health and well-being of our people, while mitigating the impact of COVID-19 through the various response measures of the government.
Moreover, the movement of goods and trade will remain unhindered, he said.
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said that the DTI is also working directly with the various industry sectors to assure the continued supply and stable prices of basic necessities and prime commodities.
The DTI has also imposed a price freeze on basic necessities, and has intensified its consumer protection measures to penalize and charge profiteers and hoarders, he said.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar reported that in coordination with the Office of the President (OP), DTI, DOH, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), local government units (LGUs) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), the DA is implementing its Food Resiliency action plan to ensure access to safe and affordable food—initially for the residents of Metro Manila—including but not limited to rice, sugar, vegetables, root crops, eggs, meat and poultry.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the Department of Energy (DOE), in unison with its industry stakeholders, assured the public of full coordination to provide uninterrupted supply of petroleum products and electricity nationwide, in support of continuing vital economic and social services to the public.
Governor Diokno said, "There is no reason to believe that the COVID-19 crisis could severely cut the Philippine growth momentum. The truth is that the economic fundamentals are on our side. Even under the worst possible scenario, the Philippines can still grow this year and in the medium term by about 6 percent.”