The government is now in the process of raising some P275 billion as additional budget from savings realignments in the executive branch for use in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that has now engulfed over 170 countries worldwide.
In the Philippines, the Department of Health said COVID-19 has already infected over 800 Filipinos, including several lawmakers, and claimed over 50 lives, at least nine of whom were medical doctors, aside from other front-line health workers.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said about P200 billion of the additional outlay is earmarked for two-month sustenance of some 18 million poor families rendered immobile in their homes by the enhanced community quarantine lockdown.
Salceda said the realignment is authorized by Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the emergency legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Duterte recently in the race to arrest the exponential spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The Albay lawmaker said Congress aims to prioritize the needs of 20 percent of the poorest families who have no means to survive since they are deprived of their means of livelihood following the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine in wide areas including the entire Luzon.
The remaining P75 billion of the entire budget, he added, goes to “health-related initiatives and other services.” RA No. 11469 also requires Malacanang to submit to Congress a detailed weekly report on the spending of the budget allocation, as part of its oversight monitoring requirements.
He said the Luzon lockdown alone aims to save some 1,565 lives. “It could be yours or your loved ones," Salceda said.
Without the lockdown, mass transmission may also kill 4.13 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A lockdown will reduce the GDP by only 2.95 percent. The move thus saves both lives and the economy, he added.
“We need to support those who will find it hard to comply with the lockdowns because their livelihood are at stake,” explained Salceda who was the first among his colleagues to call for a lockdown and who earlier proposed the “Pantawid Family Quarantine” Program, a mass-based social mitigating measure.
A noted economist, Salceda pointed out that the “poorest 20 percent of the needy population will be unable to survive the enhanced community quarantine without significant national government assistance, considering that most of their employment is informal and therefore hampered by the mobility restrictions.”
“We need to give them this kind of incentives, see they don’t go hungry and won’t have any valid reason to go out and continuously keep them at home without complain,” Salceda said in an earlier letter to the House leadership.
“Ensuring compliance with the enhanced quarantine’s restrictions among those who cannot support themselves is absolutely critical in denying the virus room to grow. Without any means of income substitution, earners from lowest income families will be forced to work and possibly become infection vectors, just to make ends meet,” he stressed.