By Arjay L. Balinbin

THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) on Monday said it identified 35 transport projects where around P15 billion can be freed up for the government’s coronavirus pandemic response efforts.

“[The DoTr] submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) the list of projects for budget realignment to free up P15.1 billion of funds for initiatives to mitigate COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019),” the department said in a statement.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran declined to provide the list, but said it includes 35 program items and projects across all transport sectors such as rails, airports, ports and roads.

“Hindi ko pa ma-ishare kasi proposal pa lang siya (I cannot share the list because it’s just a proposal). It’s still up to the DBM if they will accept it,” she said in a phone interview.

Ms. Libiran said the projects are not being axed and will still proceed since only a portion of their budgets may be realigned.

“Hindi ititigil ang project… ’Yung portion ng budget ng projects na hindi naman madi-disburse this year, ’yun ang pwede naming ibigay o i-realign (The project will not be stopped… The portion of the budget that will not be disbursed this year, we can realign those),’’ she said.

Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the President has the authority to realign items from the 2019 and 2020 national budgets so it can fund measures to contain COVID-19.

The government has allocated P1.45 trillion so far for fiscal and monetary measures for COVID-19 response, the Finance department said. Around P304 billion has been allotted to assist the most vulnerable sectors, while the majority of the P830.272-billion funds will go to initiatives that will support the economy.

The Department of Finance recently said government expenditures are expected to hit P583 billion for emergency support to vulnerable sectors alone, while it has allotted P35 billion for medical expenses for the COVID-19 fight.

Work on many public infrastructure projects have stopped in Luzon, as the island was placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on March 16. The ECQ is scheduled to be lifted on April 30, although the government is weighing whether or not to extend it further.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has allowed limited work for 13 rail projects despite the Luzon-wide lockdown.

These rail projects are the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 Cavite Extension, LRT-2 East Extension, LRT-2 West Extension, LRT-2 Fire Restoration, Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 Rehabilitation, MRT-7, Metro Manila Subway, Common Station, Philippine National Railways (PNR) Clark 1, PNR Clark 2 and Calamba, Subic-Clark Railway, PNR Bicol, and Mindanao Railway.

Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar has said the department has reallocated a small amount — about P30 billion — from the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program to help finance the response to the crisis.

The “Build, Build, Build” budget stood at P816.2 billion last year. This year, the main agencies implementing the program, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the DoTr, have been given a budget of P581.7 billion and P100.6 billion respectively.

Mr. Villar has also said that projects under the infrastructure program will be slightly delayed, but targets for 2020 will still be met.