THE GOVERNMENT has so far borrowed $23.4 billion from external sources to fund its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response, the Finance chief said.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the borrowings were made between March 2020 and Dec. 7, 2021. Of the total, $21 billion covers the decline in government revenue collections, he said at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay event on Wednesday.

The rest was set for COVID-19 response and recovery projects, including vaccine procurement.

“Out of the $21-billion budget support financing contracted by the government, a total of $19.8 billion has been disbursed to the government since March of last year to help bridge the budget gap,” Mr. Dominguez said.

“Of the $2.4-billion grant and loan financing contracted in support of various COVID-19 related projects, about $1.2 billion has been disbursed to the government.”

These projects include buying laboratory equipment, medical supplies, and vaccines, as well as interventions addressing the impact of the pandemic on poor communities.

Mr. Dominguez said COVID-19 vaccines were financed through multilateral development banks.

“We chose to finance our vaccine procurement from the multilateral agencies — Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — because we wanted to assure the public that there is no overpricing,” he said.

“(These banks) will not finance anything that smells of overpricing, and believe me they see the prices around the world.”

The Finance department has said that the government is set to buy COVID-19 booster doses that will be distributed in 2022.

The Health department said it has administered 92.75 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of Dec. 6. Less than 36% of the Philippine population has been fully vaccinated, the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker showed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dominguez at the same event suggested that a separate agency should manage the funds of the government-run pension funds and health insurance agency.

The Finance department is preparing a proposed bill to achieve this.

Mr. Dominguez had recently ordered the Social Security System (SSS), the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to adopt updated financial reporting standards.

“Each of the agencies — SSS, GSIS — have their own investment management offices, which I think do pretty well. However, I believe that more coordination under a unified management of their funds would be more effective and more beneficial for the members of SSS and GSIS,” he said.

Mr. Dominguez also said that the Bureau of Internal Revenue should collect for the various agencies, instead of having separate collection departments for each.

“It is your duty to reduce your expenditure and to be able to increase the fund life and possible the benefits. You have to be more efficient,” he said. “Why do you need a collection department?” — Jenina P. Ibañez