Duterte worries over funding needs for COVID-19 cash aid program

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 7) — President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday government will need more funds to fulfill its key promise to distribute cash aid to poor families amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“The P100 billion for one month or the P270 billion for two months, ‘yan nakaprogram na as earlier estimated is not enough. I’m calling on the Secretary of Finance to generate [funding.] Magnakaw ka, manghiram ka, wala akong pakialam. I-produce mo ‘yung pera,” Duterte said in a televised address to the nation.

[Translation: The P100 billion for one month or the P270 billion for two months earlier estimated for this is not enough. I’m calling on the Secretary of Finance to generate funding. Steal, borrow, I don’t care. Produce the money.]

Duterte appealed to wealthier people to consider extending financial assistance to the poor. He also floated the possibility of finally allowing the reclamation of Manila Bay in exchange for food aid.

“Hindi ko alam kung kailan ako makahatid ng pagkain sa lahat. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako magkuha ng ng pera. Hindi ko alam kung ano ang ipagbili ko kung may magbibili,” he said.

[Translation: I don’t know when I can distribute food for all. I don’t know where I will get money. I don’t know what to sell and if someone would want to buy it.]

Aid released

Among the key provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One law, which gave Duterte special powers, is the provision of a ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 monthly allowance for two months to indigent families.

Duterte said in his report that certain individuals from barangays affected by the communist rebellion, indigenous people communities and those running micro, small and medium enterprises would also receive a ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 cash aid.

He added that agrarian reform beneficiaries will also receive a ₱5,000 subsidy, on top of emergency relief packages and seedlings for farms.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development already received the first half of its requested ₱200-billion allocation for cash aid, according to Duterte’s second weekly report to Congress.

Of this, Duterte said P16.35 billion has been spent to distribute cash aid to 3,721,833 beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

“The DSWD is exploring the most efficient methods to transfer and distribute the assistance to all target beneficiaries before the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine,” Duterte said in his 22-page report.

On top of this, the Land Bank of the Philippines has paid out ₱6.07 billion for around 1.2 million conditional cash transfer beneficiaries of the DSWD, and will release an additional ₱2.66 billion to around 333,000 public utility vehicle drivers.

The Department of Labor and Employment has also released ₱441.94 million in assistance to 83,388 workers from 6,923 establishments hit by the COVID-19 crisis. This is just 28 percent shy of the department’s target beneficiaries.

Duterte also said that 55,934 workers have so far benefited from the DOLE’s emergency employment program, with the agency using ₱174.59 million to benefit 55,934 workers.

The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, distributed ₱2.5 million worth of agricultural products to the local governments of Caloocan City, Las PInas City, Makati City, Muntinlupa City and Paranaque City to add to their relief goods.

The Department of Budget and Management is slated to give funding assistance to cities and municipalities equivalent to one month of their internal revenue allotment, which totals to ₱30.82 billion.

Funding sources

The government can still tap around ₱639.35 billion for its COVID-19 response.

Part of this is a ₱300 billion loan from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Bulk of the possible funding for the response to the pandemic comes from dividends remitted early to the government by various government agencies and corporations and unused funding.

A total of ₱189.82 billion from the 2019 and 2020 budgets may be discontinued, Duterte said, and realigned towards fighting COVID-19.

The Health Department has so far recorded 3,660 cases of COVID-19, 163 deaths and 73 recoveries.

CNN Philippines’ Triciah Terada and Jay Dones contributed to this report.