Only 1 percent of the funds earmarked for the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response efforts remained unspent, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday.
Duterte made this assertion after some senators criticized the supposed underspending of funds under the now-expired Republic Act (RA) 11519 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, otherwise known as Bayanihan 2.
In his pre-recorded Talk to the People, President Rodrigo Duterte asked Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III if there was any truth to the administration’s alleged underspending of Bayanihan 2 funds.
Dominguez, responding to Duterte’s query, said: “What they (senators) are referring to as ‘underspending’ is PHP6 billion or one percent of the total.”
Dominguez assured Duterte that his office and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) are now coordinating with the government agencies to make sure that they are spending the COVID-19 funds.
“This is a 1 percent problem. It is not in relation to what we have released of P660 billion. This is 1 percent. And we are sure that it will be released. But in the meantime, we are asking each department to really spend the money,” he said.
As of June 25, there was still an unobligated amount of P6.487 billion out of the total P141.59 billion released for special appropriations under Bayanihan 2, according to the data uploaded on the DBM’s official website.
Unobligated funds have been reverted to the Bureau of the Treasury after Bayanihan 2 expired on June 30.
Dominguez, nevertheless, said the DBM has already released around P660 billion for the government’s COVID-19 response.
After hearing Dominguez’s statement, Duterte advised lawmakers to listen to the Finance chief.
“What is wrong with Congress is that they are not listening when you are talking,” he said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan earlier said the government has failed to obligate the remaining funds under RA 11519.
On Sunday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said there was a need to spend limited resources properly, regardless of whether these are from the Bayanihan law or not.
“Our national debt has ballooned to P11.07 trillion as of end-May. Each one of us, even those newly born, is in debt by P100,000. We must make sure taxpayers’ money will be used judiciously,” Lacson said.
He also said President Rodrigo Duterte got his information all mixed up and took potshots at him and Senate President Vicente Sotto III for claiming the loss of billions of pesos worth of unused Bayanihan 2 funds.
Lacson said he is not the senator who claimed there was underspending under the Bayanihan fund.
“I’m quite sure because I don’t have the data on the matter, and I don’t speak without basis. Some other legislators did,” he said.
Lacson said his speech before the Rotary Club last Friday has nothing to do with Bayanihan, but dealt with pre-pandemic underspending from 2017 to 2019, on the annual average of P331 billion against yearly gross borrowings of almost P1 trillion during the same period.
Dominguez said over the weekend that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine doses before yearend to inoculate 100 percent of adult Filipinos.
Dominguez said Saturday night during the President’s televised weekend meeting with Cabinet officials that the ongoing vaccine deliveries are expected to reach 171 million doses before the end of the year and these are more than enough to inoculate 70 million or 100 percent of the country’s adult population.
Dominguez also said that P45 billion is available under the national budget to sustain the government’s COVID-19 vaccination drive next year for protecting the people against more contagious and deadlier variants of the virus.
“The money is already available for that. So there is no problem with the money for this year…. By the end of this year we will be able to vaccinate the entire adult population of the Philippines. Hopefully everybody will agree to be vaccinated,” Dominguez told the President.
He said the country has already received 30 million vaccine doses of various brands.
Another 65 million are expected for delivery between July 1 and Sept. 30, and 55 million doses more by the year’s fourth quarter, he said.
The government is also expecting the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility to deliver additional volumes of vaccines this semester to complete the 171 million doses expected to be received by the country for 2021.
The International Finance Group of the Department of Finance said the Philippines can access a maximum of 49 million doses from COVAX.
Dominguez also assured the President that as a result of his administration’s policy of fiscal prudence since 2016, the government has funds for its COVID-19 response efforts even beyond 2022.
“Mr. President, I don’t think we’re good only until six months. I think we are good beyond 2022. So it’s not going to be easy but because of the moves that you have made from 2016 to 2019, we are ready to handle this problem financially,” Dominguez said.