$18-billion foreign loans funding PH fight vs. COVID-19

The government has secured $18.4 billion in foreign loans to deal with the crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Finance (DOF) said Friday.

“As of April 28, 2021, we have borrowed a total of $18.4 billion from external sources,” Finance Undersecretary Mark Dennis Joven said in an interview with state-run PTV.

Of this amount, Joven said, $16.26 billion is for budget support, while $2.14 is for project financing.

“When we say budget support, it is to augment the national budget to spend for all regular programs under the national budget,” he said.

“For project finance, it means we borrow money for a particular project,” he added.

The $16.26-billion budget support loan includes the $6.93 billion from multilateral sources such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Some $1.32 billion, meanwhile, has come from bilateral sources, including countries such as Japan, Korea and France.

The government has also raised about $8 billion from the sale of foreign currency-denominated bonds.

He said that the payment period for the COVD-19-related foreign loans go “beyond a decade or two.”

Joven said that most of the budgetary support loans have been disbursed since last year to augment the government’s budget to respond to the pandemic.

He said the foreign loans were necessary as tax revenues have declined as a result of the economic slowdown brought about by strict lockdowns in response to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) on Friday advised local governments units (LGUs) in Metro Manila to use their reserved stocks of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine as the first dose while awaiting supply replenishments from the national government.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Metro Manila mayors, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the vaccine cluster with Secretary Carlito Galvez had agreed to keep inoculations continuous.

“That was part of the discussions and instructions that whatever you have reserved for the second dose, you may use it as a first dose for the other constituents because we will be providing you with additional vaccines,” she told the mayors at the online forum.

“They can use those [doses] while waiting for the supplies that we will give them for replenishment of their stocks,” she said in Filipino.

Several vaccination sites in Metro Manila earlier had to pause operations due to dwindling vaccine supplies.

Mayors said the number of vaccine registrants in their cities had exceeded the number of doses available.

On Thursday, Sinovac completed the delivery of all 1.5 million doses purchased by the Philippine government for April.

Vergeire said the distribution of the newly delivered doses is ongoing.

A similar push to use all doses as the first jab was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte for 525,600 AstraZeneca doses last month.

The DOH expressed hope that the next AstraZeneca delivery, which will be used as the second dose on those who have already received their first, will arrive before the end of May as the schedule remains uncertain.

The Philippines is still far from its target of vaccinating 70 million people this year.

The country has inoculated around 1.5 million people as of April 27.

In other developments:

• The ambassador to Russia said the first batch of government-procured Sputnik V vaccines has been shipped from Moscow and should be arriving in Manila on May 1. Ambassador Carlos Sorreta said a total of 15,000 doses were sent from Russia on April 29, with "more to come" in the next weeks and months. The delivery was supposed to arrive last April 28 but was postponed due to a lack of direct flight from Moscow to Manila. The cold storage requirements also made it hard to transport the Russian vaccines since they must be stored with a temperature not exceeding -18 degrees Celsius.

•  Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo urged the DOH to allow drive-thru vaccination to speed up inoculation against COVID-19. Castelo made the appeal in a resolution in view of the expected arrival of millions of doses of vaccines in the next two months. Castelo, a deputy majority leader, said the alarming increase in Covid-19 cases calls for an aggressive vaccination drive once more vaccines are available. “Having drive-thru vaccination sites will encourage those who are hesitant to go to existing congested inoculation centers due to fear of contracting the virus from other vaccinees or vaccinators. It will also ease overcrowding and the problem of parking in these centers,” she said.

• Philippine Airlines has assured the public it will continue assisting the government in transporting COVID-19 vaccine shipments to various provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao. On Friday, PAL flight PR-1845 departed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to deliver 56,400 Sinovac vaccine doses to Mactan Cebu International Airport. "In line with its continuing partnership with the Philippine government, flag carrier Philippine Airlines continues its domestic vaccine transport," said PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna. She said "23,480 vaccine doses will be airlifted to BacolodFriday and on May 1, more vaccines will be flown to Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Davao and Busuanga." Villaluna said PAL has already shipped a total of 2.4 million vaccine doses from Beijing to Manila and close to 600,000 vaccine doses from Manila to various parts of the Philippines from March 2021 to the present.  

Topics: COVID-19 pandemic , foreign loans , Department of Finance , Mark Dennis Joven
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