President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief economic manager said mass testing for COVID-19 is “a must” if the Philippines wanted the pain inflicted by the disease on both the health care system and the economy to go away.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said that if the country does not have the capability for mass testing yet, “we shouldn’t despair but rather build up the capacity to do so.”

While Dominguez declined to comment on the possibility of extending the ongoing one-month enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and other areas, he said a further lockdown would be “certainly not positive” to the economy.

“But remember that now the goals are to preserve the health of the people, to provide financial support to the people in the informal sector, to support all the front-liners, and to provide liquidity for the economy,” Dominguez said.

In a text message to the Inquirer on Wednesday (April 1), Internal Revenue Commissioner Caesar R. Dulay said BIR collections in the first quarter of 2020 were “lower” as the growth in tax take was also “lower,” without citing figures.

The BIR had been unable to continue investigating cases of unpaid taxes during the lockdown as warrants cannot be served to heed restrictions on travel.

The BIR already extended deadlines for tax payments, including last year’s income tax returns (ITR) as well as the ongoing amnesty on delinquencies, as a form of relief to taxpayers amid the lockdown.

As COVID-19 hurt businesses and livelihood, the Department of Finance (DOF) had estimated forgone tax revenue this year would amount to P286.4 billion if gross domestic product posted zero growth, or a larger P318.9 billion if GDP contracted by 1 percent.

Last Tuesday (March 31), Dominguez urged those who can afford to do so to pay their taxes promptly.

He said the government needed funds to implement social protection subsidies and other measures in Republic Act No. 11469, or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gave Duterte additional powers to deal with the pandemic.

While the government planned to borrow more than P101 billion from multilateral lenders for COVID-19 response, domestic borrowings, through T-bills and bonds, had been tepid as investors demanded excessive rates and held on to their cash.

To contain the social and economic impact of COVID-19, the World Bank last Tuesday urged “high levels of testing, tracking and quarantines” across East Asia and the Pacific region, including the Philippines.

Edited by TSB


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