Duterte mulls selling government assets as last resort

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Duterte mulls selling government assets as last resort
In a televised address late Thursday, Duterte said he would dispose of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine International Convention Center, among others, if the country’s financial condition worsens.
Presidential Photo / Cado Ninal / File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is eyeing the sale of government assets as a last resort to keep the country afloat as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to claim lives and ravage the economy.

In a televised address late Thursday, Duterte said he would dispose of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), among others, if the country’s financial condition worsens.

“What is the endgame? If we really run out of money, I will sell all the property of the government,” he said.

Duterte earlier said he might reconsider his decision not to allow the reclamation of some areas in Manila Bay due to environmental concerns. But with the country facing the COVID-19 emergency, the President said he might look again into the plans to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

The Department of Health has identified the PICC, along with the Rizal Memorial Stadium and the World Trade Center, as among the quarantine areas for patients with mild symptoms, to decongest public and private hospitals.

In his address, Duterte also warned lessors against pressuring their tenants to pay rents on time, citing the financial difficulties being experienced by many people during the lockdown.

“You know, almost everyone is losing their source of livelihood. So I’d like to ask the owners… to suspend – don’t ask for the payment of rent yet if they cannot pay, or if they feel the crunch now,” the President said.

“And whatever (money) the people have now, they are saving it for the last day, the rainy days to come,” he added.

Duterte made the appeal as the government pegged at 1.2 million the number of workers temporarily rendered unemployed due to the public health emergency.

“I appeal to you, don’t force them to pay right now. Don’t push it or we will really clash. I really won’t allow it,” the President said.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has imposed a 30-day grace period for rent collection to help residential and commercial tenants cope with the effects of the enhanced community quarantine. 

Aid on the way

Citing the country’s sound fiscal standing as well as the coming help from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Finance Secretary Carlos Domiguez III assured the President at a meeting that the country would be able to address budgetary requirements to fund the government’s strategy against COVID-19.

He said the economy grew an average of 6.4 percent since Duterte assumed office in 2016, while tax collection improved dramatically.   Inflation last month was pegged at two and a half percent, which is within the target of two to four percent.

Budget gap seen to rise

He said budget deficit is expected to rise from 3.2 percent to 5.3 percent. “In other words, we will be spending more than we will be collecting. But we are spending more in order to save the people and make sure that they have food on the table during this time,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez also discussed with the President and with members of the Cabinet ongoing efforts to fund the administration’s social amelioration program designed to assist the country’s 18 million families coming from the “poorest of the poor.”

“So, the program is to spend, first, to help the poorest families, and then to help the small and medium enterprises, and then to provide support for the companies that are supported by their banks,” he said.

“So, Mr. President, you have created an economy that can stand a hard-hit and I think the Filipino people should thank you for your very conservative economic policies,” Dominguez added.

The country’s economic team is “coming up with a program to continuously borrow more money to support the Philippine economy and our fight against this COVID,” Dominguez said.

“Right now, we are going to tap our friends from ADB and the World Bank and we will probably be borrowing about $5.6 billion from them. If the amount is not enough, we will go to the commercial market. We have an excellent credit rating which is now BBB+, the highest ever,” Dominguez added.

Duterte presided Wednesday over the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) at Malacañang.

Dominguez also thanked Congress for giving the President enough leeway to spend and realign the 2020 budget to help him address the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are thankful that the legislature gave you the power to reallocate the budget so that we can… We can meet the new – how would you say – the new priorities now which is the COVID – which is brought about by the COVID,” he said.

“We also spent a lot of money, about P600 million for health care and COVID items, and the Central Bank has provided P830 billion in liquidity for the economy,” Dominguez said.

“Right now, we are working on our recovery or our bounce-back program. But to do that, we have to analyze first what is the damage to the economy,” he added.

Last month, the President signed the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has put the country at a standstill.  

Duterte also declared a state of national emergency in the country, and placed the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine.  The quarantine was initially set for lifting today, but it was extended to April 30.

The President has admitted the allotted P270-billion emergency subsidy was not enough.



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