DOF chief pushes for 2021 budget's 'swift' passage as Senate begins tackling P4.5T spending bill

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 09 2020 08:55 PM | Updated as of Sep 09 2020 09:36 PM

MANILA - Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez on Wednesday urged the Senate to "swiftly" pass the P4.5-trillion 2021 budget and at least 3 bills to enable the government to revive the Philippine economy stunted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The road to economic recovery after the pandemic stalled several sectors "will be a test of fiscal stamina", and the national government is in need of "tools" to keep the Philippine economy afloat, Dominguez told senators on the first day of budget deliberations in the Senate.

"There is no knock-out punch for the situation until a safe and effective vaccine is ready for mass distribution... It will be a test of fiscal stamina," he said.

"The 2021 budget will provide us with the tools necessary to rebuild our economy and decisively defeat COVID-19," he said. 

The P4.5-trillion spending bill includes allocations that will enable several sectors - like education, labor, health, and tourism - to cope with the new normal brought by the pandemic.

Public schools need to purchase new equipment as the education sector migrates to online classes to limit physical interactions that may worsen the spread of COVID-19, while thousands of unemployed Filipinos need aid to rebuild livelihoods that were forced shut by the health crisis.

The Department of Health also needs funds to sustain its testing programs and procure COVID-19 vaccines once these are available in the market.

"This is why we have been consistent with our approach: we will do what is necessary, but we will not be wasteful," Dominguez said.

"We should not delay providing urgent and necessary relief to our people," he said.

Dominguez said the following bills will help the government quickly recover from the economic crisis:

- Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE)
- Financial Institutions’ Strategic Transfer (FIST)
- Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE)

The CREATE Act - which will lower the corporate income tax rate to 25 percent - "will help businesses continue operations and retain jobs," he said.

The FIST Act will "enable banks to offload souring loans and assets, clean up their balance sheets, and extend more credit to more sectors in need", while the GUIDE Act "will enable government banks to form a special holding company that will infuse equity, with strict conditions, into strategically important companies facing insolvency," he added.

Unlike past crises, the economic setback due to COVID-19 can be "remedied with legislation and spending that restores confidence in the economic sector," the Finance chief said.

"How a country’s economy performs during COVID-19 and how quickly it can bounce back once the crisis is over will depend on its economic resilience."