MANILA, Philippines — The economic team has slashed the amount set aside to build infrastructure this year even as total expenditures on public goods and services were jacked up to better respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

The latest projections of the Cabinet-level Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) presented by Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III to the Senate on Tuesday showed that infrastructure spending for 2020 was reduced from the P800.6-billion program or 4.1 percent of gross domestic product last March to P725.1 billion or 3.8 percent of GDP during their May 12 meeting.

This year’s updated infrastructure budget was below the P1.05 trillion spent by the government last year.

This was despite the DBCC increasing the 2020 disbursement program to P4.175 trillion from P4.163 trillion in March, which Dominguez said “took into account the releases for COVID-19 initiatives charged to savings coming from austerity measures, among others.”

On the other hand, the Department of Finance (DOF) said in a statement that preliminary data showed total tax collections of the bureaus of Customs (BOC) and of Internal Revenue (BIR) as of end-April totaled P706.85 billion, below the P735.03-billion target for the four-month period and lower than the actual take of P900.33 billion a year ago.

Dominguez nonetheless told senators that the proposed bounce-back plan called Philippine Program for Recovery with Equity and Solidarity or PH-Progreso included “restarting and accelerating the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, subject to compliance with minimum safety standards.”

“The infrastructure program remains to be the best driver of economic growth because it has the best multiplier effects in terms of employment and shared prosperity. It will primarily fuel our bounce back plan and will help our economy recover quickly,” Dominguez said.

The latest Department of Budget and Management (DBM) data showed that the country’s two major infrastructure agencies had been inflicted budget cuts in order to fund dole outs and medical response amid the pandemic.

Across all government agencies, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) suffered the biggest cut of P121.9 billion, leaving its spending program for 2020 at a lower P458.9 billion from P580.9 billion previously.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr), meanwhile, suffered a P8.8-billion reduction in its budget.

The DPWH and the DOTr’s lower budgets seemed out of sync from the economic team’s plan to ramp up infrastructure spending so that the economy could quickly recover post-pandemic.

First-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 0.2 percent, and economic managers had said that one way to post a “V-shaped” recovery after an ongoing recession during the first half will be through the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, which the government was currently reviewing to immediately resume the “most impactful” flagship projects.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua told the Inquirer that the ongoing “Build, Build, Build” review “will focus on those (projects) with highest GDP and jobs impact.”

EDV


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