ADB approves $5-M emergency grant for PHL fight vs virus

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A Filipino family eats instant noodles, in at tent set up as a makeshift evacuation center amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Manila, March 23. -- REUTERS

THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $5-million emergency grant for the Philippines’ fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Department of Finance (DoF) said on Sunday.

In a statement, the DoF quoted ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa as saying the funds will allow the Philippines to leverage private sector donations for a food distribution program for Luzon’s poorest households.

Set to be launched as early as next week, the program will be implemented by the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in coordination with the DoF.

The Manila-based multilateral lender also committed to fast-track the approval of a $1-billion quick budget support loan via the proposed COVID-19 pandemic response option of ADB’s Counter Cyclical Support Facility.

Mr. Asakawa said the ADB will also speed up approval of the $150-million additional funding for government’s Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program (4Ps) and the $100-million emergency project loan for additional health care facilities and procurement of much-needed equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said the bank will also work on the fast approval of another $500-million loan to further expand its social assistance project for the country’s 4Ps program.

The DoF statement quoted Mr. Asakawa as praising the government’s “proactive and preemptive response in containing the community transmission of COVID-19” in a conversation with Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III.

Mr. Dominguez said they can also tap the ADB for technical assistance for the government’s “recovery” plan.

“What good will be a stimulus if there are no workers. We must think of the workers first. So, we need measures in order for the Philippines to bounce back for the inevitable turnaround. And we would like to ask technical assistance from ADB for that,” Mr. Domiguez said.

Mr. Asakawa said the ADB is currently expanding the coverage of its $500-million Contingent Disaster Facility to include health emergencies. Earlier, the multilateral lender approved the initial $3-million grant for the Philippines to buy needed medical supplies, PPEs for health workers and testing kits. The funds will also be used to procure a new laboratory with diagnostic equipment for Jose Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in Pampanga.

The ADB had said that a “large assistance package” worth at least $1.6 billion will be delivered to the Philippines “within weeks” to help the government respond to the worldwide health crisis.

The Finance chief earlier said they are aiming to seek additional $1-2 billion worth of funding assistance from multilateral agencies.

Separately, Mr. Dominguez told reporters via Viber that they will consider the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) plan of boosting infrastructure investment, particularly in the health care sector to “future-proof” the country’s own health care system.

With the new loans, National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon said the country’s borrowing mix will likely be revised. A 75:25 borrowing mix in favor of domestic sources was originally planned for 2020.

Ms. De Leon told reporters via Viber that borrowings from domestic sources might be “lower than 75,” although the revised ratio is still up for Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) approval.

At the same time, Ms. De Leon said they are expecting to receive today the P300-billion payment from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for the government securities it had purchased to help boost government’s coffers.

“We finalized MOA (memorandum of agreement) with BSP on repo (on Friday) and provided GS (government securities). Will confirm on Monday credit of P300 billion to our account,”

The BSP is buying P300 billion worth of debt from the Bureau of the Treasury under a three-month repurchase agreement, which is renewable for another there months.

Ms. De Leon said the Treasury continues to “closely” monitor the dollar bond market after the US Federal Reserve fired off $2 trillion stimulus package last week. — BML