Budget chief: Funding COVID-19 response a 'continuing saga'

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 28 2020 03:52 PM

Residents queue during the distribution of cash assistance during Social Amelioration Program in Baseco, Manila on May 7, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- Funding the Philippines coronavirus pandemic response is a "continuing saga," the country's budget chief said Thursday as he dismissed the possibility of requesting for a supplemental budget.

The government has so far released P358.86 billion in funds from pooled savings, realigned budgets, and unprogrammed appropriations to fight the pandemic, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said.

The amount could be higher, Avisado said, as the budget department has yet to consolidate reports from different government offices.

"This is a continuing saga and we really need to be prepared particularly on the matter of providing the necessary funding support to all of our activities in response to COVID," he told reporters.

Of the funds released so far, the biggest chunk was for social amelioration or cash aid, which amounted to P100 billion for the first tranche.

Budget realignments were allowed under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act which granted President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to respond to the pandemic.

At least 2 senators have filed bills seeking to help the Philippine economy recover from the crisis that caused the first GDP contraction in 22 years.

With community quarantine measures expected to stretch until June, economic managers are studying additional monetary and fiscal policies since asking for a supplemental budget does not have enough basis, Avisado said.

The Duterte administration cannot ask for a supplemental budget since it has yet to find additional sources of revenue, Avisado said.

"Wala pong pagbabasehan ang ating supplemental budget," he added.

(Requesting for a supplemental budget will not have basis.)

For now, the government is making do with "available" funds--realigning the P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020 and collecting dividends and savings from government firms to fund its pandemic fight, he said.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno had said that the country would need an additional budget "very badly" to spur new jobs following the coronavirus pandemic.