Lawmakers lamented the loss of billions of pesos worth of unused Bayanihan 2 funds that were set to expire on Wednesday, June 30, after Congress and the President failed to pass a law to extend its validity.
“This is a serious indictment of the failure of the Duterte administration to rescue Filipinos from health complications and bail out the economy consequent to the onslaught of COVID-19,” said Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman in a statement.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Tuesday that the latest tallies of the government showed that P9 billion were still unused from the Bayanihan 2 funds. This amount was lower than the previous computation released by lawmakers of P18.4 billion.
Suspecting that the government rushed spending the Bayanihan funds, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate called for a probe, saying that “the people must know where these public funds go.”
Why does this matter?
House ways and means committee chairman Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda said that one of the casualties in the expiration of funds was the contract of contact tracers and healthcare workers.
The funds could be crucial for areas hard hit by the virus. Testing and contact tracing are pillars of pandemic response, and healthcare workers are essential in keeping hospitals afloat to handle the continuous flood of infections.
Just on Monday, June 28, the Philippines’ coronavirus cases surpassed 1.4 million, after the Department of Health (DOH) reported over 5,000 new cases.
The deadline for spending the Bayanihan 2 funds was already earlier extended from December 19, 2020, to June 30, 2021. Lawmakers called for another extension, but Congress was already on break. It would only resume its session on July 26.
The President though has the discretion to call Congress back to a special session and ask the legislators to act on urgent matters. He did not.
What happens next?
The funds are set to return to the National Treasury.
“The language under Bayanihan 2 extension (RA 11519) explicitly dictates that the funds shall be available for ‘release, obligation, and disbursement’ until June 30, 2021. There is very little room for interpretation from there, other than that we cannot release or disburse anything after June 30, even if they have already been obligated,” Salceda said on Wednesday.
The failure of the government to spend all the funds it has been entrusted with has been used by critics against the House-backed Bayanihan 3 aid bill for all Filipinos, pointing out that the government must first dedicate itself to spending all the money it had been given before pursuing another aid program. – Rappler.com