MANILA (UPDATE) - Spending unused budget from the Bayanihan 2 law that expires Wednesday would be technical malversation, a legislator said as he urged Malacañang to call for a special session to tackle the extension of the measure's validity.
Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said there are still billions of pesos in unobligated funds that were originally intended for public utility vehicle drivers, displaced workers, contact tracers, and others who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. By Thursday, July 1, these funds would have to go back to the treasury, he said.
"The law is very clear—it is extended, Bayanihan 2, only up to June 30, 2021. Wala na. Otherwise, if there will be expenses, it will be given out, that will be technical malversation," Rodriguez, a former law school dean, told ANC's Headstart on Wednesday morning.
"There is no more law allowing the expenditure. All monies of the government are through either the General Appropriations Act or special laws like Bayanihan 2, which has an appropriations provisions and it ends on June 30. Therefore, the law itself makes it clear that there can be no further obligations or expense coming from these funds from Bayanihan 2 after June 30," he said.
Rodriguez said the House of Representatives under Speaker Lord Allan Velasco is "very willing" to work on extending the validity of the law during a special session.
"We are really appealing. It will end today, wala pang session, but we can still have a session next week and we will revive it. It’s true, it cuts off today but by law, it can say that the appropriations that were not obligated or not released are now by law, allowed to be released up to December 30. That’s why we’re still appealing to the President to call for a special session," he said.
Congress went on recess last June 5 and will resume session when President Rodrigo Duterte makes his final State of the Nation Address on July 26.
NOT MUCH FUNDS LEFT ANYWAY, SAYS BUDGET CHIEF
Department of Budget and Management Secretary Wendel Avisado said there is only P6.487 billion in unobligated allotments for Bayanihan 2, down from the previously reported P18 billion.
In a reply to ABS-CBN News' text messages, he broke down these allotments as follows:
- Department of Education - P1.744 billion
- Department of Social Welfare and Development - P1.294 billion
- Department of Public Works and Highways - P1 billion (primarily due to non-submission of report)
- Department of Agriculture - P658.241 million
- Department of the Interior and Local Government - P580.471 million
- Philippine Fisheries Development Authority- P384.350 million (due to non-submission of updated reports)
- Philippine Coconut Authority - P322.000-million (due to non-submission of reports)
- Department of Health - P266.169 million
- Department of Labor and Employment - P224.040 million
"Taking out three items that can be updated and the continuing obligation of agencies by now, the unobligated allotment will be below the P5-billion already," he said.
"Hence there is really not much to be extended by June 30 po. Meanwhile there are other funds that can still be used by Departments/Agencies until end of the year," he added.
He pointed to the Office of the President when asked why the executive branch is no longer pushing for a bill extending Bayanihan 2.
Such bill was approved on second reading last June 2. It further extends the release, obligation and disbursement of appropriations or funds provided under Bayanihan 2 until December 31, 2021.
But with no presidential certification on its necessity, the House adjourned the 2nd regular session of the 18th Congress sine die, without final approval of the bill. It will be mooted by the time the House opens its 3rd regular session on July 26.
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez concurred with Avisado’s statement.
“Strictly speaking undisbursed funds, if any, of the expiring Bayanihan 2 Law will revert back to the General Fund… So the programs affected will go unfunded….Will have to reconfirm with OP and DBM what actually are the undisbursed balances if any remain for the programs like laboratory testing services, hiring/training of health personnel and contract tracers among others…We wanted to be coordinated (reconciled versions na sana) with the Senate so we could have passed it faster… Senate was not ready to take it up so it didn’t happen,” he said.
House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate demanded a full accounting of the funds for Bayanihan 1 and 2.
Based on DBM data, the Bayanihan 1 and 2 fund releases and disbursements result to a remaining amount of P217.2 billion as of April 15, 2021.
"Just the other day, the DBM said that only P9 billion remains to be obligated under Bayanihan 2. But with the government’s low capacity to disburse and obligate, and a persistent showing of such absorptive capacity, we want to know how an amount of more than 200 billion was used in less than 3 months. The people must know where these public funds go," said the progressive solon.
"Hingi nang hingi ng pondo, pero kapag nandyan na ay di naman kagyat na ginagamit sa dapat paglaanan nito. Ang Special Risk Allowance para sa health workers, ngayon lang hinahabol na maipamahagi. Pero hindi lang yan, dahil marami pang hindi tinupad sa ilalim ng BARO na hanggang ngayon ay hinahanap ng mga pinaasang health workers," said the Davao-based solon.
(They keep asking for funds, but when it's there, it's not immediately used where it should be allotted. The Special Risk Allowance for the health workers, its distribution is being rushed. Not just that, because there are many others under BARO that health workers still look for until now.)
He also pointed out that the National Budget Circular 586 is trying to collect the expected savings from the fiscal year 2020 General Appropriations Act from agencies.
NBC 586 "covers released allotments under the FY 2020 GAA which remain unobligated until May 15, 2021, but not expressly earmarked for the implementation of programs/ activities/ projects addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Without proper accounting, we cannot blame the people for thinking that this administration is trying to create an enormous war chest in the run up for the 2022 elections," said Zarate.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman also slammed the government for being unable to use the funds from Bayanihan 2.
“Paucity in appropriation is aggravated by ineptness in fund utilization for the pandemic response. This is the tragedy of Bayanihan 2 or R.A. No. 11494 which expires today with P18.4-B billion for the COVID-19 contagion still unutilized as admitted by Malacañang," he said.
"This is a serious indictment of the failure of the Duterte administration to rescue Filipinos from health complications and bail out the economy consequent to the onslaught of COVID-19. This ineffectiveness accounts for the projection that the Philippines will be the last to recover in late 2022 from the pandemic-induced recession among the countries in the Asia-Pacific Region which HAVE outpaced the country in the amount and alacrity in responding to the pandemic," he added.
He noted how the P165.5 billion budget for Bayanihan 2 "was already considered inadequate and lower than what was originally proposed by the House of Representatives due to the tightfisted bidding of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez" and its validity was extended 9 months after its original date of expiration of September 2020.
Aside from the unapproved Bayanihan 2 extension bill, the House also approved on 3rd and Final Reading House Bill 9411 which is the proposed P401-billion Bayanihan 3 Bill, which remains pending at the Senate. It taps savings pooled from the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws as sources of funding.
- with report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News