Bayanihan law report: Duterte yet to fully exercise special budget powers

MANILA, Philippines  (UPDATED) – Six days have passed since the Bayanihan to Heal as One law took effect, and the first weekly report on its implementation showed that President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to exercise his budget powers fully.

Malacañang submitted to Congress on Tuesday, March 31, its first report on the special powers law. It said that the government will be using P209.9 billion worth of lump sum allocation in the 2020 budget as additional funding to be used to deal with the pandemic.

The recently signed Bayanihan to Heal as One law allows President Rodrigo Duterte to temporarily do away with the original purpose of an allocation so that any of its unspent balance can be used to fight the virus.

For the first week, Malacanãng temporarily put aside the original purpose of some items listed under the special purpose funds (SPF). SPFs are lump sum allocations because these do not have specific details about where they will be used.

Of the P209.907 billion worth of available funding under SPF, majority will come from the Budgetary Support to Government Corporations, which has a remaining budget of P145.717 billion from its P195.485-billion appropriation.

The next biggest source ranked a far second, is the special shares of local government units in the proceeds from national taxes, which has a remaining appropriation of P28.414 billion from its P28.852 billion.

The table below shows the breakdown of SPFs to be tapped to deal with coronavirus. The list does not include budgets that are specifically used to deal with the pandemic like the disaster and contingency funds, nor those that relate to government workers' salaries.

As of Friday, March 27, the SPFs haven't been touched to fund measures, the report said, except to replenish the Department of Health's P500-million quick response funds – sourced from the National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund.

No 'realignments' yet

Section 4(v) of the law gives the President the power to discontinue projects within the executive branch so that their budget allocations could be released for coronavirus measures. So far, no projects have been temporarily canceled, pending a list of projects that would need additional funding.

Similarly, the President has yet to "realign" savings. 

In the meantime, the Department of Budget and Management is coordinating with national government agencies to use their funds, particularly the P53.23-million budget of the Department of Science and Technology, to produce at least 1,300 test kits.

The health, social welfare, and labor departments were also asked to tap into existing funds that total roughly P160 billion.

As for government-owned and -controlled corporations, the state firms under the Department of Transportation have advanced P10 billion worth of remittances to the Bureau of Treasury (BTr). These firms include the Philippine Ports Authority, Manila International Airport Authority, and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines

The government is expecting a minimum P100 billion-dividend collection from various GOCCs by Tuesday, March 31, consisting of excess revenues collected.

Under the Bayanihan law, the mandatory report is supposed to be submitted to Congress every Monday, but the first weekly report was received by senators on Tuesday at 12:40 am, said Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

The law initially had controversial provisions on unconstitutional budgetary items and the takeover of businesses but these were eventually struck out during marathon special sessions. (READ: Congress reins in Duterte's special budget powers)

The special powers law is valid for 3 months or until June 26, unless extended by Congress or terminated earlier through a concurrent resolution or a presidential proclamation.

Read the full report below:

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‘Are the funds enough?’

In a statement on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned whether funds for the efforts outlined in the law would be sufficient.

The minority leader said that the country’s fiscal position is “already worsening” even before the pandemic hit.

In 2019, the Bureau of Internal Revenue only collected P2.176 trillion, slightly missing the target of P2.271 trillion. The Bureau of Customs, meanwhile, fell short by P30.7 billion of the P661 billion target last year.

“The government must brace for the worst: our depleting resources and the economic effects of COVID-19,” Drilon said.

“We regret to see from that the government has not crafted any new interventions or programs that could help the poor and keep the economy afloat while we are on a lockdown,” he added. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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