At least P100 billion for distribution to households vulnerable to COVID-19 restrictions has already been released to finance at least two months’ worth of aid, Duterte administration economic managers said.

Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado told Inquirer on Thursday (April 2) that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had already released to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) P100 billion to implement the social amelioration program of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The law gave President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the P100 billion would cover cash distribution in the first months of the relief program and was made and certified as available by the Bureau of Treasury.

Avisado said another P175 billion will be released. The amount would come from cash, funds and investments from national government agencies and GOCCs.

The law allowed the use of up to P275 billion in unused government funds for COVID-19 response.

On suggestions from the private sector that it be allowed to help distribute the cash, Dominguez said he found it “interesting.”

“But how do we reach our initial target beneficiaries—people in the informal sector who have no employers?” he said.

Amid concerns that local government units (LGUs) had been slow in disbursing relief, Dominguez said “the entire government has to put all their effort to combat this contagion and its ill effects on the nation—the country expects that every citizen will do his duty.”

With ample funds so far, National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon said there was “no need at this time” to issue dollar-denominated global bonds o raise more money.

“The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas got us covered,” she said, referring to the repurchase agreement between the BSP and the Treasury for P300 billion in government securities.

De Leon said that as far as offshore commercial borrowings were concerned, “conditions today call for unconventional responses.”

“This is not your usual playlist,” she said.

“We continue to look for opportunities as we saw that issues like Israel or Panama get printed,” De Leon said.

Israel recently issued global bonds in tenors of 10, 30 and even 100 years, while Panama sold 36-year debt paper.

De Leon said the Philippines has a statutory limit to sell bonds with maturity of up to 25 years, “but you can always switch, which we have been doing.”

While the government planned to borrow up to $2 billion (over P101 billion) from multilateral lenders to the fight COVID-19, domestic borrowings through the sale of treasury bills and bonds were tepid these past two weeks as investors held on to their cash.

Tax collection was lower in the first quarter of 2020 largely because of the impact of COVID-19 and restrictions imposed to prevent the disease from spreading,  according to Internal Revenue Commissioner Caesar R. Dulay.

At least P286.4 billion in revenue would be forgone, according to the Department of Finance.

Edited by TSB


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