MANILA (AdChoiceTV News) — An opposition lawmaker on Wednesday questioned why ₱173 billion under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act remains unspent even as its June 30 expiration nears.
Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Source, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said the Executive Department must now act to obligate, source, and release the funds under Bayanihan 2. The program was supposed to lapse on December 2020 but the deadline was extended to June 30.
“That’s ₱173 billion worth of Bayanihan 2 assistance, health, expenses, etc. na hindi pa nagagasta (that remained untouched) as of two weeks ago,” he said.
Pangilinan said last week’s Senate of the Whole committee hearing on the vaccine rollout found that a “tepid” government response to the pandemic only continues to bog down the country’s economic recovery. He cited bureaucratic problems and lack of transparency on whether there are readily available funds to act on the crisis.
Last week, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado admitted that one-fourth of the country’s pandemic stimulus measures remained unspent more than a year into the local coronavirus outbreak.
He said during the EJAP Economic Forum that only ₱487.19 billion out of the ₱660.5 billion funds set aside for COVID-19 response since March 2020 has been disbursed as of May 31, leaving ₱173.31 billion still unused. The department earlier cited “implementation issues” among agencies that delayed fund releases.
Pangilinan noted that barely ₱1 billion out of the ₱5 billion initially allocated for the Transportation Department’s service contracting program has been spent. Meanwhile, only ₱3 billion out of ₱10 billion worth of assistance to micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs has been released.
“The other issue is may pondo pa ba? Nasaan na yung cash? Are we liquid?” Pangilinan said.
[Translation: Do we really have enough funds? Where is the cash?]
However, a trade official quickly clarified the numbers, saying ₱4 billion has been released for MSMEs – ₱3.5 billion for non-tourism businesses and ₱500 million for tourism establishments. Under the Trade Department’s arrangement with Small Business Corp., ₱8.08 billion under Bayanihan 2 was allotted for MSME loans but it will be split in half between tourism and non-tourism entities.
Trade Undersecretary Blesila Lantayona said the tourism sector is low on loan uptake as establishments are still wary that they will not be able to pay back the loans due to insufficient income from limited travel. The Tourism Department even allowed the reallocation of ₱1.5 billion of the sector’s loan share to non-tourism borrowings due to hesitancy among business owners.
“‘Yung mga tourism natin kahit na andiyan na ‘yung pera, wala naman pumapasok sa aming mga establishment,” Lantayona told CNN Philippines in a phone call. “Paano mo mapipilit eh babayaran din nila ‘yun and they feel na wala pa talagang nagpa-patronize ngayon, wala pang nagtatravel.”
[Translation: For our tourism (businesses), the funds are there but there are no establishments applying for loans. How will you force them (to take the loans) that they have to eventually pat for when they feel that there is no one patronizing their businesses or traveling.]
Pangilinan earlier filed Senate Bill 2218 seeking to extend the validity of Bayanihan 2 until December 31. The measure is still pending at the committee level.
The upper chamber is expected to tackle the extension of Bayanihan 2 once it resumes session on July 26.
/LMT — AdChoiceTV News (Manila)