By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Significant under spending by the Duterte administration for Covid-19 response could scuttle the possibility for the country to secure new loans, according civil society group Social Watch Philippines (SWP) in its call to government to finally orchestrate an effective means of addressing the coronavirus pandemic.
SWP made its call after it released a study authored by Alvic Padilla that looked into Covid-related loans from the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) and Asian Development Bank.
“We are still in a continuing disaster so there is no time to lose in providing for the needs of our people at the soonest possible time,” Padilla pointed out, two days after it was reported that the Senate approved on final reading two measures extending the validity of the 2020 national budget and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2).
Once enacted, the two measures will allow government to spend unutilized funds from the current budget until June next year.
Citing data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Padilla, in a public presentation of his study, stressed that the government spent less than what was programmed during the pandemic.
The DBM had stated in its website that “instead of spending PhP3.268 trillion from January to September this year, the national government only utilized PhP3.022 trillion or 7.5 percent less than programmed.
As of September 2020, the government has borrowed US$9.9 billion to address Covid-19, based on data from the Department of Finance (DoF). One of these loans is the US$750-million AIIB Loan, which, in turn, was the subject of the study undertaken by SWP.
“The national government should strengthen its administrative capability to address under spending of COVID-19 loans,” SWP co-convenor Ma. Victoria Raquiza noted shortly after the public presentation of the study through an online video conferencing platform.
“This includes ‘addressing rigidities in the system that has delayed spending for and distribution of aid to a wide swathe of our people negatively affected by the pandemic’,” Raquiza said.
According to her, slower fund use is exemplified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the primary agency in charge of providing aid and relief to the most vulnerable groups.
Last month, it was reported that the agency failed to utilize its PhP83-billion allotment for this year.
Raquiza, also a professor at the National College of Public Administration and Governance at the University of the Philippines, reiterated that there is a need to balance the prudent use of funds with the need to be more flexible and lenient in the application of certain rules in order to expedite and fast-track the release of funds for Covid-19 programs.
“Unless these adjustments are undertaken, then under spending may continue,” she stressed.
Meanwhile, Padilla’s report entitled ‘A Scoping Study on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s Covid-19 Loan to the Philippines’, also called on the government and its creditors to “provide and broaden meaningful spaces” that will allow citizens’ groups to keep better track of the use and effectiveness of Covid-19 loans.