Malacañang said Thursday it is open to having the government spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic audited.
“We have nothing to hide. We welcome the call of some senators for a special audit of the government’s expenses to curb the spread and impact of COVID-19 in the country,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said, adding that the Office of the President has submitted weekly reports to Congress on its implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Roque was responding to a Senate resolution asking the Commission on Audit (COA) to scrutinize the Duterte administration’s spending on its COVID-19 response, including the purchase of allegedly overpriced medical supplies.
“The President and Malacanang have nothing to hide. All the spending and the money intended for COVID-19 went to the government’s COVID-19 response,” Roque said in a press briefing.
Roque said President Duterte regularly submits reports to Congress on all efforts made against COVID-19 after the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act went into effect.
As of June 30, the government had released P374.89 billion to provide cash aid to millions of low-income families isolated by months-long lockdown, purchase medical equipment and bankroll other projects as spelled out in the Bayanihan law.
A bulk of the amount — P200.98 billion — went to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which handled the distribution of cash aid to poor families.
Senate Resolution 479, filed by seven senators on Wednesday, urged COA to scrutinize the government’s expenses, loans, and donations made under the now-expired Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA 11469).
The Senate resolution was signed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Juan Edgardo Angara, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila de Lima.
RA 11469, which lapsed on June 25, allowed Duterte to use emergency powers and spend P275 billion as an emergency fund to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Under RA 11469, the government was also given the authority to grant emergency subsidies ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 to low-income families to help them cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
Malacañang earlier said the expiration of RA 11469 would not stop the government from disbursing the cash relief to low-income households affected by the pandemic.
Roque said most of the poor families have already received the financial assistance from the government.
However, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, conducted among 1,555 adult Filipinos from July 3 to 6, found that the average amount of cash aid received by families of less educated respondents was “smaller than the average amount received by families of more educated respondents.”
“In particular, the amount of government money-help received by families of non-elementary graduates (an average of P5,516 or median P5,000) was smaller than the amounts received by families of more educated respondents (average ranging from P6,307 to P7,107 or median P6,000),” the SWS said.
Roque said his office would look into the report.
Duterte, in his fifth and penultimate State of the Nation Address on Monday, urged Congress to pass the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) Act, which contains a stimulus package to revive the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government has limited options to raise money for the COVID-19 response.
He said the government can borrow money, impose new taxes, or cut spending.
But to impose new taxes in the midst of a pandemic would just cause additional hardship on the people. Cutting government spending, which accounts for 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, would also hurt the people, he said.
This meant borrowing money is the best option.
“We are in a crisis. Borrowing is not a crime as long as we spend the money for the people – to feed the 5.2 million Filipino households who are hungry, provide jobs to 5 million Filipinos and give assistance to distressed businesses,” he said.
But Drilon said the government must observe complete transparency and accountability in borrowing money and account for each centavo it spent for COVID-19.
“We need more funds to buy more personal protective equipment (PPE), laboratory equipment and medical supplies, increase our COVID-19 bed capacities and provide additional benefits to our health care frontliners,” he said.
In terms of per capita distribution, he said the Asian Development Bank notes that Philippines ranks 4th among Southeast Asian countries with the smallest COVID-19 response packages in terms of share of GDP. “Clearly, we need to spend more,” Drilon said.
“The government should not worry about breaching the 40 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, which is ideal for developing countries like ours. Today isn’t the time for austerity,” he said.
In other developments:
• Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday lauded the swift action of the House Defeat Covid-19 Committee (DCC) on the bill to increase the capacity of the government financial institutions to support distressed micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The bill would provide a capital infusion of P55 billion to the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), and the Philippine Guarantee Corp. (PGC) for their programs to MSMEs.
• The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) assailed the swift passage by the Senate of the Bayanihan to Heal as One II (Bayanihan 2) bill, which it said relies on the same government programs proven to be ineffective against COVID-19.