Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Duterte administration to be transparent in its public reporting of budget realignments and funds utilization to address the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, maintained that it is in the spirit of public accountability and the public’s right to information that the government provide complete and accurate details on sourcing and spending of public funds used in responding to the public health emergency.
“Ayon sa Bayanihan Law, kailangang malinaw kung saan galing at saan napupunta ang pondo sa pagtugon sa pandemya. Pero sa loob ng labintatlong linggo ng pag-uulat ng Malacañang, bakit kulang-kulang ang datos ukol dito? May itinatago ba ang gobyerno?” she asked.
“Ang gusto nating malaman: Ang pondo bang ginagamit ay mula sa donasyon o sa utang? Ano ang suma-tutal ng mga donasyon? Magkano ang kabuuang inutang at anu-ano ang mga terms and conditions nito? Anu-ano ang mga nire-align na pondo mula sa Pambansang Budget?” she added.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act has empowered Mr. Duterte to realign budget items, reallocate cash or subsidies held by any GOCC or national government agency, and use special purpose funds to respond to the health and socioeconomic needs brought about by the pandemic.
To date, the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) releases for COVID-19 response reportedly amounted to P355.1 billion, with the cash assistance given to poor families, ordinary workers and other marginalized groups accounting for the bulk of the money.
Meanwhile, data from the Bureau of Treasury revealed that government borrowings to finance COVID-19 response have skyrocketed to P8.6 trillion in April alone.
“Given all these figures, we are still left in the dark with regards to how the government is handling the funds to address the health and socioeconomic crises brought about by COVID-19, considering that many Filipinos from the vulnerable sectors continue to struggle with surviving their day-to-day lives because of the pandemic,” said De Lima.
In her comments on the President’s 12th Weekly Report dated June 17, De Lima noted that the Department of Social Welfare and Development failed to distribute the first tranche of cash aid to 291,722 poor families, thereby missing its own adjusted target of benefitting 17,938,647 impoverished households.
In the same comment, De Lima also lamented how 48,551 4Ps families – the poorest of the poor – remain without the promised cash aid from the government even after three months of lockdown.
De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, said a detailed public report on government’s funds utilization is required to address possible corruption amid the pandemic.
“Bilyon-bilyong piso ang pinag-uusapan dito—pera ng bayan na inilaan para tugunan ang pangangailangan ng mga sektor na labis na naapektuhan ng krisis. Dapat hayag sa publiko ang bawat sentimong nilalabas, ginagastos, o pinamimigay. Bawal ang hokus-pokus!” she said.