MANILA - Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez on Saturday denied that the national government has been underspending during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several senators and House members earlier called for an investigation into how the executive branch spent for COVID-19-related items, saying the government has yet to utilize about P6 billion for the pandemic.
"“According to the DBM, we have already released 660 billion pesos. What they are referring to as 'underspending' is 6 billion pesos or 1 percent of the total. The Department of Budget (and Management) and ourselves are going to each department to see where the P6 billion is," Dominguez said in a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
"But Mr. President, this is 1% of the problem. In relation to what we have released of P660 billion, this is 1% and we are sure that it will be released, but in the meantime, we are asking each department to really spend the money.”
The Philippines has "no problem with the money this year," the Finance chief said, noting that budget officials have already included about P45 billion for the procurement of more COVID-19 vaccines next year.
"We do have the money for that. How do we use that money? Are we going to need booster shots? Are we going to need another set of vaccinations?" Dominguez said.
"Whatever it is, please tell us so we can properly allocate these funds," he said.
"I don't think we are only good for 6 months, I think we are good beyond 2022," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte criticized members of Congress for claiming that the executive branch has underspent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"One thing very wrong with Congress is they are not listening when you are talking... Sa Bisaya, tira pasagad. Maski saan na lang tatama," he said.
(In Visayan, shoot anywhere. It doesn't matter what it hits.)
"Nakaka-ano kasi (It's something because) the criticism is always on the executive department," he said.
Duterte specifically mentioned Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson as the lawmakers who have been hitting the administration on the use of public funds.
When asked for a comment about the President's statement, Sotto told reporters: "Let's verify when we tackle the budget because that's what we gathered the last time last year."
Earlier this month, Lacson and Sotto confirmed that they will run as a tandem in the 2022 national elections, where Duterte plans to run for vice president.
In April, Duterte also attacked in public speeches Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who reportedly plans to run for president and has been in a power struggle with the President's allies in the ruling party PDP-Laban.