Supplemental budget an option if ECQ expands beyond NCR — Palace

Activists stage a protest rally in front of the Department of Social Welfare Development to raise their demand to the national government on Aug. 5, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration is considering asking Congress for a supplemental budget that will fund cash aid, or “ayuda”, if the hard lockdown this month expands beyond the National Capital Region.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters about the plan on Thursday, as the government reviews proposals to include Calabarzon into the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) — the strictest lockdown level — that currently covers Metro Manila.

But Roque said asking Congress for additional budget would be the government’s last option if savings from agencies and earnings from state-run corporations would not be enough to fund an expanded cash aid program.

“The president’s mandate is not to implement ECQ if there are no funds. Now, if there’s no budget for ayuda, we’ll look for one,” Roque told reporters.

“(Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III) said that it could be sourced from dividends from GOCCs (government-owned and controlled corporations) if there’s not enough savings there. If that doesn’t pan out, then we could get a supplemental budget from Congress,” he added.

The ECQ in the capital will begin on August 6 amid a sudden flare-up of Covid-19 cases believed to be fueled by the Delta variant.

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Old rules stipulate government would hand out cash assistance if ECQ is imposed in an area to keep low-income families afloat while some businesses shut down. Earlier this week, Roque said the government has earmarked P13.1 billion from its “savings” to fund a cash aid program that would give P1,000 subsidy to each 10.7 million poor residents in Metro Manila.

That said, expanding the ECQ to include Calabarzon — which includes provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon — would require a bigger cash aid program than what the government had already prepared. Sought for comment, Dominguez said the size of any supplemental budget “will depend on what exactly the requirement will be, if any.” Budget Undersecretary Tina Marie Canda said her agency is yet to come up with an estimate of funding needed for an expanded cash aid program.

Another question that comes to mind is where funds for a possible supplemental budget will come from since the Constitution requires any additional spending plan to have a counterpart revenue source. “At the moment, no funding or revenues is available,” Canda said.

For now, officials like Roque are counting on the ongoing immunization program to temper the country’s growing pandemic needs. “Now, this would be the last ECQ because our vaccination is increasing,” he said.

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