MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the budget department to prune budgetary items that can be realigned to fund the social amelioration program for poor families in areas still under lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Friday.
Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Roque said the government needs an additional P50 billion cash aid for millions of families that were left out of the social amelioration program, instituted to provide a lifeline to the Filipino poor who lost livelihood because of travel and work restrictions due to COVID-19 quarantine regulations.
"The President has ordered the [Budget] Secretary to find ways and means to give social amelioration to everyone in the second tranche. We're not sure this will happen because the President said number 1, ask Secretary [Wendel] Avisado to find out if we could realign funds, and if we cannot realign funds, ask congressional leaders to help him find the financing because this is a staggering P50 billion if we were to give social amelioration to all 23 million beneficiaries of SAP on the second tranche," he said.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said the Cabinet is still discussing if the Duterte administration should seek a supplemental budget from Congress.
In a text message to ABS-CBN News, Avisado said a supplemental budget may be requested if the Department of Finance certifies that there is excess revenue or new sources.
The President's spokesman said Congress had allotted P205 billion for government to provide emergency subsidies ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 to over 18 million poor families for April and May.
Duterte, however, decided to extend the cash aid to 5 million more beneficiaries, said Roque.
The President earlier placed the entire island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. A modified ECQ will remain in Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City until May 31.
Several local government units are urging the national government to still place them under the enhanced community quarantine but the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases appeals committee has yet to rule on the matter.
Aside from the case doubling rate and critical care capacity in areas appealing to change their quarantine status, Roque said another important thing that the IATF is considering is if government could still afford to give social amelioration to more people who want to remain under modified ECQ.
"There will be ramification because the decision of the IATF is to limit already the amount of social amelioration, the second tranche of which should be limited only to areas under ECQ for the month of May. We're still not sure where to get the amelioration for the third tranche of ayuda (aid) for areas remaining under modified ECQ," he said.
Roque said the modified lockdown would allow the slow restart of the economy. However, only select industries can operate up to a maximum of 50 percent capacity.
Non-essential services such as barber shops and salons will remain closed, he said. Mass transportation is likewise still not allowed to operate under MECQ.
"Although we have allowed substantial business to operate, they have to provide shuttle services to employees. Many of them already have their buses so that’s no problem. But for those who will be riding buses they will have to get special permits from the LTFRB," he said.
OFWS ALLOWED TO FLY OUT
Roque said overseas Filipino workers are now allowed to leave for overseas employment, except for health care workers.
"We have allowed kababayans to seek employment abroad and for this purpose, also the employment agency that will be needed to process their papers are also now allowed to operate, but the POEA ban on deployment of health workers remain," he said.
It can be recalled that only Filipino health care workers with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 were allowed to leave the country last month.
"The primary consideration is the health and safety of our frontliners going to most dangerous places as far as COVID-19 is concerned. No amount of waiver will compensate for the fact that the government will be remiss in its obligation to protect the health of its citizens if it were to allow health workers to go to the most dangerous places for COVID-19," he said.
He added, "Those who already had their papers processed could leave, but new processing will not be allowed. I don't think anyone with an existing contract is covered by the ban."
Meanwhile, Roque stressed that face-to-face learning cannot begin until August for higher education institutions.
He said that under modified ECQ, jogging, running and walking outside is now allowed.
"But golf is not allowed in MECQ but only in GCQ areas. I think there is no bias as far as economic status is concerned because now we can exercise outside. We can run, we can bike and we can walk," he said.