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MANILA, Philippines – Twice as he presided over meetings and inspections of Typhoon Odette’s devastation, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte claimed government funds for responding to the storm are “immensely depleted” by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was talking with the budget [officials]. You know, our budget is immensely depleted because of the COVID. Our money was really wiped out,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English last Friday, December 17.
He repeated the sentiment on Tuesday night, December 21, during a meeting with Cabinet members, saying, “I am really worried because, let me be frank to the public, our money here in the Philippines is depleted, even coping up with the growing expenses for the typhoon victims.”
Amid these claims, Duterte has promised to find P10 billion in government funds for initial response.
On Wednesday, December 22, in a Malacañang press briefing, the Department of Budget and Management explained where that amount will be coming from.
“P2 billion is already available under the NDRRM fund… The next P2 billion two billion is available under the President’s contingency fund. The remainder, the P6 billion will be available in a couple of days once the GAA (General Appropriations Act) is signed for 2022,” said DBM officer-in-charge Tina Canda.
The NDRRM fund (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management fund) is also known as calamity fund. Canda said there are actually still around P4 billion but the government does not want to use up all of it for Odette response just yet.
More funds could be sourced from the 2022 national budget, but this can only be done once the law detailing the budget is signed by Duterte. Canda said the signing could happen from December 26 to 29.
Can the government find more funds?
Economic think tank IBON Foundation, however, said Duterte could mobilize a lot more than P10 billion if he had the political will.
The group’s executive director Sonny Africa said on ANC Rundown on Wednesday that there could be as much as P260 billion for the government to draw funds for Odette response and rehabilitation.
“That’s about P150 billion in additional revenues, then underspending of about P110 billion. If there are no appropriations for it, we really have spent everything, we can always go for a supplemental appropriation for what needs to be done,” he said on the news program.
Africa believes Duterte’s claim of depleted funds was likely a reflection of the stance of fiscal restraint taken by economic managers, notably Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
“In a lot of ways, the President just gets fed these ideas by economic managers. We want to build the point that it’s this obsession with fiscal consolidation, fiscal restraint , getting a low budget deficit,” said Africa.
“Instead of looking for some fiscal benefits that will only manifest over the long term, in terms of lower borrowing, if there’s an emergency, it is an urgent need right now, I think what should be top of mind is mobilizing what resources are available for what the government needs,” he added.
In the same program, Zy-za Suzara executive director of budget watchdog iLead, said Duterte would do well to also seek the views of DBM officials, other than the finance department.
“They are the ones tracking the balances of the appropriations, how much has been released to government agencies. I think it’s more of a leadership and governance issue,” she said.
Initial damage assessments peg agricultural damage in various provinces in the tens of millions of pesos and infrastructure damage in the hundreds of millions of pesos. – Rappler.com