All COVID-19 funds to be accounted for – Duterte

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
All COVID-19 funds to be accounted for â Duterte
President Duterte holds a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City the other night.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte vowed yesterday to look into possible anomalies in the use of around P376 billion intended for addressing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a recorded address from Davao City aired yesterday morning, the President directed National Task Force for COVID-19 head Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “to properly report on how all the funds were spent and their intended purpose.”

“Allow us time to do our thing, spend the money, and there will always be a time for reckoning and that will be the time when we account for the money that we have used in the fight against COVID,” he said.

“I will hold myself responsible for this sole and solemn duty of answering for and in behalf of the executive department of all the funds that were spent in the fight against COVID,” Duterte said.

The 75-year old leader again assured the nation that government funds are used wisely and properly following the Congress’ approval of the Bayanihan 2 Act, which extended the President’s power to realign the budget to COVID-19 response.

“I want you all to know that as upon my oath of office, don’t you worry about the funds, I will make sure that all the money spent for COVID-19 will be accounted for,” he said in Filipino. It was at this point when he said he would be accountable for this in case there would be any fiasco.

The Department of Budget and Management has released around P 376.57-billion to key agencies for the government’s COVID-19 response efforts. The DBM said as of Aug. 10, around P266.53-billion of the total allotment releases came from savings generated from discontinued programs, activities and projects.

Some P100.19-billion came from special purpose funds, while another P 9.85-billion was sourced from regular agency budgets.

A lawyer, Duterte added he would be the one to endorse the case to the prosecuting office. “Ako ang magpirma mismo (I will sign it myself),” he said, referring to the complaint if there would be any.

The President then directed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra “to complete his investigation, and his signature on the endorsement will be accompanied by my signature” to pin down those who abuse the use of the COVID-19 funds.

Duterte also ordered concerned Cabinet secretaries to let the public know how they spent the funds at their disposal during the past five months of the pandemic.

The President said the people would want to know where each agency spent the taxpayers’ money, where it went and who benefitted from the projects.

Duterte also encouraged Congress to create an oversight committee that will oversee expenditures to guarantee that public money is spent properly.

“I am urging Congress, as a matter of fact, I am demanding Congress to join us in putting up measures to ensure that the money is spent to its purpose. Ilagay na ninyo ang lahat ng safety measures para walang palpak (Place all the necessary safety measures to avoid failure),” he told lawmakers.

The President said he is willing to order agencies to work with policy makers to ensure that safety measures are in place.

Digital footprints

In a report to the President, the Department of Finance (DOF) said it is pushing for the digitalization of the government’s cash aid programs to prevent corruption in the distribution of subsidies to target beneficiaries.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said future subsidy programs should be made digital, much like what the government did for the Small Business Wage Subsidy program which assisted workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic. About P41 billion has been disbursed under the program.

“We wish to inform the President and my colleagues in the Cabinet on the latest update on the Small Business Wage Subsidy program, and the factors that have made this program largely efficient and effective,” he said.

“Based on the factors and the adoption of the following principles for future subsidy programs, number one, we think all subsidy programs in the future should be digitized,” Dominguez added.

In particular, the finance chief proposed that the distribution of cash aids be made directly through the bank or electronic wallet (e-wallet) accounts of intended beneficiaries.

“It is hard to do fraud here if it’s by computer. There is really no cash being handled. Nobody can keep the cash. So, the intended beneficiaries – employees of small companies – are receiving the subsidy,” he said.

The digitization of government systems is among the priorities set by the Duterte administration under the P4.506 trillion 2021 proposed budget.

The President agreed with the finance chief’s proposal, saying digitalization would remove human intervention in the distribution of subsidies.

“The most important thing here is the placing of funds to banks so they can go directly to workers. There is no intermediary and there is no intervention of any kind...It will lessen corruption,” the President said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism (DOT) expressed its gratitude to the Bicameral Conference Committee for approving the P10 billion allocation for the tourism sector under the Bayanihan 2 Act.

“With the government’s support through the Bayanihan 2, the DOT shall continue to handhold its stakeholders towards recovery, and carry out the plans and programs under the Tourism Response and Recovery Plan in its full capacity,” the DOT said in a statement.

Of the P10 billion, P3 billion will be allocated for the implementation of cash assistance for displaced tourism workers or employees, which will be handled by the Department of Labor and Employment, while P1 billion is for the tourism road infrastructure program of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

In addition, P6 billion will be allocated for MSME loans in the tourism sector. – Edith Regalado, Mary Grace Padin, Alexis Romero, CatherineTalavera

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