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Budget department releases P78 billion to boost Philippines’ pandemic response

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The government is allocating more funds to assist returning overseas Filipino workers amid the pandemic. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

By Beatrice M. Laforga, Reporter

THE BUDGET department released more funds from the government’s second stimulus package, but economists said the sluggish disbursement so far may hamper the Philippines’ recovery.

In a statement Thursday, the DBM said it released a combined P77.98 billion to various line departments that will implement the recovery programs under Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II).

The law allocated P140 billion to aid heavily affected sectors and another P25.5 billion in standby funds in case there is excess revenue for other programs.

Bayanihan II, signed into law on Sept. 11, aims to help affected sectors recover from the pandemic through relief measures and programs. The law, however, is set to expire in less than two months, or by Dec. 19.

Asked to comment, Socioeconomic Planning Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua stressed the need to release the funds in a timely manner to ensure economic recovery.

“Bayanihan II is part of the recovery program for 2020, so its timely implementation is important for the recovery process,” Mr. Chua said in a Viber message on Thursday.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte earlier this week gave the Budget chief the authority to approve the disbursement of Bayanihan II funds without prior approval from the Office of the President. Prior to this, there were at least P46.2 billion in funds awaiting the President’s go signal.

The implementation of recovery programs may be delayed if the release of Bayanihan II funds will remain slow, affecting recovery prospects for the second half and even up to next year, ING Bank N.V. Manila Senior Economist Nicholas Antonio T. Mapa said.

“Government spending had been the lone bright spot for GDP in the first half and the slow disbursement of an already modest fiscal stimulus plan will complicate matters in the second half of 2020 and for growth momentum well into 2021,” Mr. Mapa said in an e-mail on Thursday.

“The Philippines currently has the most austere response to the crisis despite falling the furthest after COVID-19 struck and delays in disbursement and passage of additional stimulus measures may lead to our expectation that the Philippine economy, once the fastest growing in the region, is now headed to a lower growth path,” he added.

The economy fell into a deep recession in the first half after the second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by a record 16.5%. A softer contraction is expected in the second half as the economy reopened and the stimulus measure kicked in.

In the second quarter, the 22% uptick in government spending helped temper the 16% year-on-year slump in household spending

Economic managers hoped a boost in state spending would make up for the weak private consumption in the second half. However, latest data showed government spending fell by 15.45% to P351 billion last month.

The funds released were broken down into P20.6 billion for the Health department; P13.1 billion for the Labor department; P12.032 billion for the Agriculture department; P9 billion for the Transportation department; P6 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development; P2.5 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government for hiring of contact tracers; P2.5 billion for Professional Regulation Commission for its project to conduct a computer-based licensure examination; P8.1 billion for Small Business Corp. and  P1 billion each for state-run banks Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines for low interest loans.

Around P855 million was also released to the Office of Civil Defense for construction of isolation facilities; P820 million to the Department of Foreign Affairs for its programs to assist returning overseas Filipino workers; P461.5 million to the Bureau of the Treasury to augment the support fund of local government units; P180 million to the Philippine Sports Commission for the allowances of national athletes and coaches; P100 million to the Trade department for the Balik Probinsya program.

The DBM said it also issued P995 million to the Department of Public Works and Highways; P28.4 million to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and P730 million to the Health department, separately.

“For the remaining balance of the P140-billion allocation under Bayanihan II, the DBM expects the respective implementing agencies to submit their budget requests with complete supporting documents, consistent with existing budgeting rules and regulations. The DBM likewise assures the public that all requests will be immediately evaluated and processed within 24 hours upon receipt of complete documents,” the statement read.

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