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P46.2B in urgently needed Bayanihan 2 funds stuck in Duterte's office

More than a quarter of the P140-billion fund provided by the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act cannot be spent on urgently needed pandemic response efforts because President Rodrigo Duterte is yet to approve its release.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, on Thursday, October 22, broke down the components of the P46.2 billion in Bayanihan 2 fund requests that were currently pending before the Office of the President.

"Nakasaad kasi sa batas mismo (It says in the law itself) that only the President can approve of all of this," said Avisado during a Malacañang press briefing.

These funds include critical assistance to workers who lost their jobs due to the economic downturn, support to the Department of Health, financial assistance to low-income families, and assistance to farmers.

  • P6 billion - Department of Social Welfare and Development's Assistance for Individuals in Crisis Situations
  • P8 billion - Department of Labor and Employment's Tulong Panghanapbuhay program
  • P11.6 billion - Department of Agriculture's Plant, Plant, Plant program
  • P20.5 billion - pandemic-related response of the Department of Health

P46.2 billion is more than 30% of the P140 billion fund set aside by Bayanihan 2 to help the country's economy recover from the COVID-19 health crisis. A P25.5 billion "standby fund" brings the total of such funds to P165.5 billion.

Of this, only P4.15 billion has been released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to agencies that would implement the various programs or give out assistance to needy sectors.

What's taking Duterte so long?

Roque could not say exactly why Duterte or his office was taking so long in approving the fund releases. But he told reporters to "ask again on Monday" (October 26) since he intended to ask Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea about the matter before then.

"The OES (Office of the Executive Secretary) is just making sure that the funds are indeed needed and it will go to its intended beneficiaries," said Roque.

Medialdea has not responded to Rappler's queries as of writing.

It's not clear how long the DBM's Memorandum for the President on the budget releases has been with Malacañang.

But it's been more than a month since Duterte signed Bayanihan 2 into law on September 11.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called the slow release of funds "inexcusable and deplorable" while Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto lamented that it would delay both assistance needed by families and the country's economic recovery.

Avisado stressed that the DBM was not delaying the release of Bayanihan 2 funds on purpose and that the sluggishness of the releases was because the department wanted to be judicious about these funds.

"Hindi naman po kasi pwedeng ilagak namin lahat ng pera na alam namin na marami pa po silang hindi nagagasta. Ganoon po, parte po kasi ng mandato namin 'yan, on budget management," said the budget chief.

(We can't give out all the money because we know they still have much unspent funds. That's part of our mandate on budget management.)

Apart from the P46.2 billion now awaiting Duterte's go signal for release, the following fund requests are "on process," according to Avisado.

  • P9.4 billion - Department of Transportation assistance for public utility vehicle drivers
  • P10 billion - Small Business Corporation assistance to tourism, micro, small, and medium enterprises
  • P2 billion - Department of Labor and Employment AKAP financial assistance for overseas Filipino workers
  • P3.1 billion - Department of Labor and Employment cash-for-work program for unemployed, displaced workers in tourism industry

– Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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