Lawmakers: Problem lies in swift aid rollout, not budget under lockdown extension

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 7) — As President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to extend the enhanced community quarantine, the problem remains not in the national government's budget allocation for COVID-19 response, but rather in the swift distribution of aid to those who need it the most, lawmakers claimed Tuesday.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said the decision to extend the Luzon-wide lockdown is reasonable, as it is “better to be safe than sorry.”

The senator also downplayed fears about budget shortage and noted that the government can always address it.

”The extension is to solve the health concerns on the spread of the virus," Sotto said in a statement. "[Regarding] budget, there is no problem at all as far as I know. Govt can solve the needs for funds.”

For Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, more than the funds, the government should act with urgency on the distribution of cash aid that has already been allotted under the Bayanihan Law for the low-income families.

”More than the availability of funds, the biggest challenge is in the roll out or distribution of the social amelioration funds to cover as many families hit by the ongoing lockdown,” Lacson noted.

He added that this can always be made available through savings, grants, and loans.

Senator Joel Villanueva shared a similar sentiment and urged that workers in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) should also be given assistance as they continue to struggle with alternative means of income.

“Likewise, we hope that our government considers providing wage support to workers in the MSME who are under the minimum wage and no work, no pay sector," Villaneuva said. "We expect that despite the initial hitch in the distribution, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) will make the necessary adjustments to expedite the relief distribution."

Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases Spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced Tuesday that a 30-day grace period for the commercial rent of MSMEs will be applied, after confirming that Duterte has heeded their recommendation to extend the quarantine period until April 30.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. urged that a stimulus package be given to employers to enable them to continue paying their workers’ salaries and keep their businesses afloat at least until the end of the month.

The national government promised to utilize the ₱275-billion funds granted under the Bayanihan Law to give around ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 cash aid to poor families affected by the lockdown.

A one-time assistance of ₱5,000 for formal workers whose jobs have been suspended or temporarily closed will also be given by the Department of Labor and Employment provided that the firms submit the necessary documents of their employees.

Luzon has been placed under lockdown since March 17 while the government continues to respond to the rising COVID-19 cases.

The IATF has yet to deliberate whether the enhanced community quarantine will be expanded to Visayas and Mindanao regions, Nograles said.