MANILA — The government has yet to spend about a quarter of the country's second, approximately P165-billion stimulus package for the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said on Wednesday, adding that another cash injection remained "premature."
Economic managers are "not sure" if a third stimulus package is necessary because "25 percent of Bayanihan 2 still has to be spent and number 2, of course, we have trillions of pesos in stimulus package embedded already in the 2021 Budget," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
Bayanihan 2 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act allows the President to realign funds to address the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic. He has extended the legislation's validity until June 30, 2021.
Asked why one-fourth of Bayanihan 2 funds remain unused, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said, "I don’t think there’s any justification for not spending it at the time when people need it, but let’s just say that we need a little more time to spend it."
Around P53 billion or almost half of the Bayanihan 2 funds were allocated for the support of medical workers tending to COVID-19 patients. But last week, a group of workers from 3 government hospitals protested the delay of their allowances.
"I’m in the process of communicating now with the finance section of the Department of Health," Roque told ANC.
"We’re verifying if in fact there’s a delay, and we’re reminding them that people have been suspended for the delay and that more people might be suspended unless it is forthcoming. But let’s give them time to answer first," he added.
House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco and Marikina City 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo filed last week a bill seeking a third, P420-billion stimulus package dubbed as Bayanihan 3.
Sen. Grace Poe said Wednesday she would like to know where funds would be sourced for Bayanihan 3, and how these would be spent.
The country's debt is currently at P10 trillion, with P2 trillion more set in 2022, she said.
"That’s a factor to be considered and that is a factor being considered by Secretary Dominguez. And that is why while we appreciative of Bayanihan 3, we’re saying, perhaps, it’s a bit premature as of yet," said Roque.
Economic managers would like to refrain from following the example of Malaysia which borrowed heavily "because we want the flexibility to have the money when we actually need it," he said.
The Philippine government has so far amassed a total of USD13.34 billion or approximately P640.96 billion in loans for its COVID-19 response, DOF data as of Dec. 15, 2020 show.
The amount of loans nearly doubled since July 1, 2020, when total government loans for COVID-19 response stood at USD7.73 billion (approximately P371.67 billion).
On top of this, the government is also seeking to borrow P62.5 billion for vaccine procurement from multilateral financing institutions including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the World Bank.