MANILA - Senators on Tuesday agreed to pass a resolution urging the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to spend some P83 billion left in its coffers, with one saying it is "almost criminal" to withhold funds at a time when a series of calamities has burdened millions of Filipinos.
The DSWD has yet to spend P75 billion from its 2020 budget, disburse about P1 billion from the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1), and another P6 billion from the second tranche of the Social Amelioration Program, Sen. Imee Marcos told other senators during budget deliberations at the Senate.
"Not distributing P83 billion to our countrymen is almost criminal if P83 billion is available and is not being used," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.
"Sampung milyon sa ating kababayan nawalaan ng trabaho, 5 milyon nakaranas ng gutom sa nakaraang 3 buwan, and yet mayroon tayong P83 billion unexpended sum in the coffers, in the bank accounts of the DSWD," he said.
(Ten million Filipinos are jobless, 5 million have experienced hunger in the past 3 months, and yet we still have P83 billion unexpended sum in the coffers, in the bank accounts of the DSWD.)
Marcos, who is tasked to defend the DSWD's budget in plenary, said she is also "appalled by the delays" but noted that this year "rendered any distribution extremely difficult" because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the series of typhoons that hit the Philippines.
The disbursements were also delayed because the DSWD only received a portion of their funding last week, she said.
"We passed the Bayanihan 2 in August. The SARO only came out in October, and releases were only made last week," she said, referring to the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, the Philippines' second COVID-19 aid package authorizing the government to spend an additional P165-billion for pandemic-related programs.
The SARO or the Special Allotment Release Order is a Department of Budget and Management document that provides "specific authority issued to one or more identified agencies to incur obligations not exceeding a given amount during a specified period for the purpose indicated."
Opposition Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan urged the chamber to pass a resolution urging the DSWD to release funds to aid Filipinos afflicted with COVID-19 or were victims of typhoons.
"There is the urgency to release these funds because our people are dying, our people are jobless, our people are hungry," he said.
"Our Senate Secretariat can draft the language so it is bipartisan so we can adopt it tomorrow.. just to fast-track this," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and several other senators, agreed to pass the resolution on the November 18 session.
Drilon moved that the Senate resolution "be adopted... given the fact that people need this very badly."
"Wala na tayong maihaharap sa taong bayan na may pera tayo pero ayaw natin gumawa ng programa para mailagay ang pera sa bulsa nila," he said.
(We cannot face the public knowing that we have funds but we are not creating programs to put this money in their pockets.)
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto noted that the national government still has a total of P1 trillion at its disposal.
The government expects to collect P2.5 trillion in taxes, and has borrowed P3 trillion, he said.
With current disbursements totaling P4.3 trillion, the government still has P1.2 trillion in cash, he said.
"The appropriations are available. The cash is available. Hindi natin dapat patagalin tulong ng gobyerno doon sa mga nabagyo," he said.
(We should not delay government aid for these people.)
Portions of Metro Manila, Cagayan, Isabela and the Bicol region were inundated with floods, and billions-worth of infrastructure and crops were destroyed after up to 5 typhoons hit the country in recent weeks, while the nation is still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.