Senator Imee Marcos on Sunday said the country needs P750 billion, and not P200 billion as earlier proposed, as an emergency budget in funding the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which should be taken up in a special session of both Houses of Congress on Monday.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, has drawn up an emergency package of almost P750 billion called Pag-ASA: Alaga, Sustento at Pag-Angat, which seeks immediate and sustained protection of health workers, provision of food and cash aid for marginalized communities, and stimulus packages to badly hit industries employing millions of workers.
Marcos will pitch the Pag-ASA emergency package in a Senate bill on Monday, fearing public panic may ensue in coming months if the government’s proposed emergency budget of only P200 billion is approved.
Possible sources of the first P300 billion of the Pag-ASA emergency package can be squeezed from funds left over from the 2019 budget; calamity funds in the 2020 budget; intelligence and social funds of the Office of the President; PhilHealth’s emergency reserve fund; and contingency funds from the departments of education, agriculture, labor and employment, social welfare and development, and public works and highways, Marcos said.
Marcos added that the government can take advantage of the recent upgrades in its investment ratings and the prevailing low interest rates of close to 0% to borrow funds of up to P440 billion, an amount still within a manageable debt cap of 5.4% from the present 3.2%.
“Ilokana man ako, hindi ito ang tamang panahon para mag-kuripot ang gobyerno. Itodo na ang tulong kung talagang tutulong para sa proteksyon ng mga health workers, pagkain sa mahihirap, at sustento sa mga nawalan ng trabaho,” Marcos said.
Marcos warned that local government units(LGUs) are likely to run out of funds in the next two weeks but added that they should be able to download funds directly from the national government, in accordance with Section 87 of the General Appropriations Act.
A lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19 has slowed down Metro Manila’s food supply from agricultural producers all over Luzon, with checkpoints set up to support the social-distancing measures imposed by the government.
The daily income of wage earners and monthly salaries of the middle-class have been disrupted by the lockdown, with the possibility of lay-offs looming large in the export, travel and tourism sectors most affected by the global health crisis.
Marcos added that the Department of Health (DOH) has not yet been able to predict when cases of COVID-19 infection will peak, so the government must provide a budget responsive to health and food security in case the ongoing lockdown is extended beyond April 12.
The lockdown may also be replicated in other parts of the country, if the spread of COVID-19 worsens, Marcos also said. /Stacy Ang