Congress tapping P200 billion GOCC funds to deal with pandemic

Aika Rey
Congress tapping P200 billion GOCC funds to deal with pandemic
The bill includes a provision giving food and cash aid to those affected by the Luzon lockdown

MANILA, Philippines – The 18th Congress is set to pass a bill that would tap into some P200 billion from government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCC) funds to deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Coming from a meeting with Malacañang and House leaders, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Saturday, March 21, that the bill will give President Rodrigo Duterte the power to realign available funds from GOCCs to finance measures to deal with the pandemic.

Discussing the proposal with reporters, Sotto said: “Not emergency powers. Not supplemental budget. [The bill would give] financial authority to realign funds available to address the COVID-19 emergency crisis.”

Sotto said that there’s no specific amount that would be included in the bill, a copy of which is yet to be made available to the media. The P200 billion in funds is the estimated amount of money available to be tapped according to economic managers.

But the Senate president said that the bill would include provisions on giving food and cash aid to those affected by the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Sotto, along with Senator Bong Go, Senate health panel chair, and Senator Pia Cayetano, Senate ways and means panel chair, met with senior Cabinet officials Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

Their counterparts at the House of Representative were also there, Speaker Alan Cayetano, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, ACT-CIS Representative Eric Yap, the new House appropriations panel chair.

According to Dominguez, the P200-billion worth of funds will come from “non-budgetary sources.”

“We are not reducing the amount of spending. We will source the funds from non-budgetary sources. This will not impact taxes. We want to preserve the Build, Build, Build program and all the economic programs of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to reduce poverty in the country,” Dominguez said in a video on Cayetano’s Facebook page after Saturday’s meeting.

It was unclear where the funds would be sourced specifically. In a text message to Rappler, Avisado said that the Department of Finance (DOF) will announce the details on Monday, March 23.

“Ang DOF po ang magso-source out ‘nyan po. Sa Monday po ilalahad nila ‘yan,” (DOF will be the one to source out the funds. They will announce that one Monday),” Avisado told Rappler.

Special session

special session will happen on Monday at 10 am, to approve the measure, which is dubbed “Heal As One” bill. It was Cayetano’s idea.

Several senators have ended their self-isolation due to exposure to a coronavirus patient two weeks ago. Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri has tested positive for the virus. But Sotto said that there will be no problem with quorum.

The House leadership, meanwhile, decided that only 20 congressmen will be allowed to be physically at Batasan. The list has yet to be finalized. The rest will have to use the teleconferencing app Zoom for manifestation and interpellations. Votes will be cast through social messaging app Viber.

Two employees of the lower chamber had died of COVID-19.

Duterte declared a state of calamity in the Philippines and a total lockdown on the island of Luzon, to arrest the spread of coronavirus.

Several provinces, cities, and municipalities in the Visayas and Mindanao had likewise declared localized lockdowns.

As of Friday, March 20, there are 307 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, 19 of whom have died. – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.