To ease the financial burden on middle-class and low-income Filipinos, Cabinet Secretary and Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases spokesman Karlo Nograles said during a virtual presser yesterday that loan payments and the payment of taxes have been put on hold.
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Pag-Ibig, GSIS payments deferred
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - April 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Grappling with the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the country is now in “a state of suspended animation,” according to the COVID-19 task force, which is waiting for analysis of the results of the enhanced community quarantine.

To ease the financial burden on middle-class and low-income Filipinos, Cabinet Secretary and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases spokesman Karlo Nograles said during a virtual presser yesterday that loan payments and the payment of taxes have been put on hold.

“Aside from the financial assistance being extended to our countrymen who need it, we wish to reiterate that the government and private sector have suspended payments and waived fees for payments that fall within the quarantine period,” he said.

“The payment of our utilities, rent, Pag-IBIG housing loans and others may be deferred for now until after the end of the ECQ,” Nograles said in Filipino, referring to the 30-day grace period for rent or lease payments.

“You do not need to pay for rent, housing loans and utility bills,” he said, adding this is separate from the financial assistance being extended to underprivileged families.

Nograles added that the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) has announced that it will grant a three-month moratorium on the payment of loans of its members and pensioners as a result of the ECQ.

He also said the government is still looking for ways to determine the percentage of the population in Metro Manila, and the rest of Luzon, who are following the lockdown intensively.

“Everything now is in a state of suspended animation; that includes the payment of taxes, renewal of licenses, registration of vehicles, renewal of franchises, since these are extended without penalty,” Nograles stated.

The government is also working double time to address the increasing number of COVID-19 infections by pushing for the testing of 8,000 to 19,000 people per day, and the isolation of those with symptoms from the general population.

‘Not yet there’

While the government is looking at more budget to sustain monetary assistance for the poor and efforts to fight COVID-19, the Duterte administration is not yet realigning hundreds of billions of funds under the Build, Build, Build program.

President Duterte has tasked the economic team to look for ways to get funds to be used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic without tapping the government’s budget for big-ticket projects, Nograles said.

“We are not yet there. We know that it’s part of what is written in law. The President can shift certain items in the budget to address our needs because of COVID-19. But we have not reached that point,” Nograles said, when asked if the government has listed which projects could be temporarily suspended to gather budget for COVID-19 containment.?“We are still at the point (of looking) for sources of funds which we can use,” he added.

According to Nograles, Finance Secretary Carlos Domiguez III and Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado are tasked to look for additional sources of funds.

Meanwhile, senators urged the government to speed up the procurement of soft loans and consider altering its spending plan for this year to free up more funds for COVID-19 response activities.

The lawmakers made the call as the President reported to Congress the government actions to fund efforts to combat the effects of COVID-19, moratorium and relief measures. Duterte on Monday said the government could run out of cash to address the crisis.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government should be prepared to sacrifice some projects, even flagship infrastructure projects, in order to generate funds for COVID-19 response, as he urged for greater government intervention to ease the impact of the pandemic among Filipinos.

The senator said the lack of sufficient funds hinder the government from responding to the crisis, as he noted that there are items in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that remain unfunded.

He noted under the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways, there are about P30.17 billion for bridge construction, P52.8 billion for asset preservation program (road construction), P113.39 billion for network development (road widening, diversion) and P90.12 billion for flood management. – With Paolo Romero

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