GOVERNMENT SPENDING and loans obtained for the pandemic response need to be monitored for their actual impact on the vulnerable segments of society, according to non-government organization Social Watch Philippines.

“[A] point to ponder in thinking about whether the government should be borrowing more for COVID financing is that the National Government is underspending from January to September this year,” Alvic Padilla, the project lead of the group’s Citizens’ Monitoring of Financing for COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) Response and Recovery, said in an online briefing Thursday.

The Bureau of the Treasury reported that government spending in the nine months rose 16.14% to P2.71 trillion from P376.5 billion a year earlier. However, spending levels missed the revised target by 7.86%.

Gross borrowing hit P3.224 trillion in the 10 months to October, more than triple the year-earlier P967.56 billion. The 10-month total has also exceeded the P3-trillion full-year target.

External debt during the period rose 95.6% to P574.435 billion — including program loans worth P364.64 billion and P23.73 billion worth of project loans.

The Department of Finance reported that foreign loans for the pandemic response hit $13.364 billion as of mid-December.

“While borrowings are not necessarily detrimental, and may even be necessary in some situations, prudent debt management is important to ensure that people most affected by the pandemic will not bear the burden of servicing these debts,” according to Social Watch.

“Transparency and accountability on COVID-19 loans are crucial because any misuse, abuse, or wastage will have dire human and social consequences,” it said. — Luz Wendy T. Noble