MANILA - The Philippine national debt could have reached P15.4 trillion in 2022 if not for the fiscal discipline of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in its COVID-19 response, an official of the Department of Finance said on Monday.
In April, the country's sovereign debt reached a record P12.76 trillion, with the debt-to-GDP ration rising to 63.5 percent.
But DOF Chief Economist Gil Beltran said this could have been worse.
“As we have said over the past few years, the government has consistently exercised fiscal prudence in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic," Beltran said.
"We spent what we had to, but not more than what we could afford. In fact, had we acquiesced to pressure for us to spend more, our debt would have increased by P2.2 trillion more and reached P 15.4 trillion,” he added.
It helped that the pandemic response under the Bayanihan Laws targeted the most vulnerable sector, Beltran said.
The Philippines enacted 2 coronavirus response laws, namely the Bayanihan 1 and 2, to ensure healthcare workers are compensated, cash aid was distributed, and a payments moratorium and rental reprieve were implemented, among others.
Beltran said the government did not support several stimulus bills with hundreds of billions in appropriations. "Revenue-eroding" measures could have led to additional spending and revenue loss, he added.
Limiting the interventions under Bayanihan II to P140 billion was also rational because overallotment could translate to further increases in deficit and debt, he said.
“Aware of the effects of additional spending on our borrowings, the DOF worked closely with legislators to limit the interventions under Bayanihan II to P140 billion, despite the objections of many other stakeholders,” Beltran said.
The accelerated vaccination program also allowed the government to implement granular lockdowns and "aggressively" reopen the economy and restore jobs, he said.
Because of its prudent approach, the Philippines has kept its current credit ratings despite its heavy borrowing and the slew of downgrades globally, the DOF has said.