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Duterte worries about finding money to address Omicron threat

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Duterte worries about finding money to address Omicron threat
President Rodrigo Duterte at a meeting with members of his pandemic task force on December 6, 2021.
Presidential Communications Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night said he was concerned about the effects of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the Philippines, saying addressing it would need large sums of money when government coffers have already been depleted.

Speaking in a televised meeting, Duterte said that there is less money to address COVID-19 because the government also had to provide aid to victims of Super Typhoon Odette.

The Department of Health has so far recorded three cases of the variant in the Philippines. The Philippines is set to remain under Alert Level 2 until December 31.

"My [concern] right now is if it would be as bad as the previous viruses already here. I'm a little scared because — let me be frank to the public — the money of the Philippines is really depleted, even coping up with the growing expenses for the typhoon victims," Duterte said in mixed Filipino and English.

"The problem is [that] far and between the days that are coming our way, celebration and all, Omicron really might slip through earlier than expected. It would require a huge expenditure again, to meet the challenges of the new variant."

Duterte: No more money

Duterte earlier made the same claim Friday, saying the pandemic "really emptied" the government's pockets. Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares pointed out that the government borrowed trillions for its pandemic response while COVID-19 funds should have already been preprogrammed in the 2021 national budget.

"His statement is clear proof of their unpreparedness. He cannot say that the funds set aside for the disaster were affected by the fund squandered by Pharmally," Partido Lakas ng Masa standard-bearer and labor leader Ka Leody de Guzman also said of the president's claim. 

Rep. Joey Salceda (Albay), who is chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and vice chair of the appropriations panel, has said that there are quick response funds under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act that can be used for typhoon relief. A tweet thread by the Philippine Daily Inquirer quotes him as saying Duterte can also use the President's Social Fund for this.

Duterte on Tuesday also said that he would be downloading some money from his own office to assist victims of the typhoon. He did not disclose the amount, however. 

"What I can promise you is that I said on or before Friday, the money will be downloaded. This is not the contingent fund or the calamity [fund]. This is the money from my office...this is all for the people," he said. 

At the same meeting, Health Secretary Francisco Duque told the president that the latest numbers confirm early observations around the world that the Omicron variant is more transmissible. However, he said, more data is still needed. 

In response, the president admitted that it was only a matter of time before the variant hit the country. "We cannot really prevent it totally because we have to move...people come in and out of our country."

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

SUPER TYPHOON ODETTE

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