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'No commitment' from DBM on release of P10B 'Odette' relief Duterte promised

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
'No commitment' from DBM on release of P10B 'Odette' relief Duterte promised
This file photo shows President Rodrigo Duterte.
Presidential Photo / Simeon Celi, Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Budget and Management said it was unsure if funds for victims of Super Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) could be released by Friday as President Rodrigo Duterte promised despite also saying that government funds are "depleted".

At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles — who is also acting presidential spokesperson — said that Duterte's claim that government funds were already "depleted" was simply only meant to illustrate the challenge before them. 

"It was made in the context of informing people that we have a lot of challenges. We have spent so much for COVID-19 vaccines, then another challenge is [the devastation brought by] Odette," Nograles said in mixed Filipino and English.

"It's not like that is as far as our [assistance] will go...we will always look for ways and means to address the concerns. The president just wants the people to understand that this is not an easy task, and we all have to help each other."

Duterte, known for his brash and tough-talking impromptu speeches, has often needed his spokespeople to clarify his statements the next day.

Where should the money come from?

Over the past few days, Duterte claimed twice that public coffers are "immensely depleted"— first he said this was because of the government's COVID-19 response, then on Tuesday night he said it was because these had to be allocated to help victims of Odette. 

"I was talking with the budget [officials]. You know, our budget is immensely depleted because of the COVID. Our money was really wiped out," he said Friday, December 17. 

"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 partially in Filipino in a prerecorded message late Tuesday night. 

Duterte commits P10 billion for tyhoon relief

In that same address late Tuesday night, however, he went on to commit  anyway to find P10 billion in government funds to help those in areas ravaged by the super typhoon—a claim the Department of Budget and Management was unsure of the following day. 

"There's still no commitment that these will be distributed by Friday. We're still looking at the damages, so we don't know how and how much to distribute," DBM officer-in-charge Tina Canda said Wednesday. 

Nograles chimed in and added that Duterte's directives were for Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad of the Office of Civil Defense, whom he tasked to "complete the necessary paperwork needed...to implement for the calamity fund." 

In the OCD's presentation of the president's directives and priorities, though, the DBM and "all agencies" were instructed to "provide more funds for typhoon response and recovery...for consideration in the programming of respective agencies."

"We can't really speculate until we have a copy of the budget," Nograles said. "We'll have a new basis for the funding for continuous efforts that we're doing for those that were devastated."

Asked if enough funds are available to augment government agencies' quick response funds, Canda said only the social welfare department has requested augmentation but said requests would be released automatically. 

The following agencies have built-in Quick Response Funds to ensure immediate action during calamities:

  • Department of Public Works and Highways
  • Department of National Defense – Office of the Secretary/Office of the Civil Defense
  • Department of Education 
  • Department of Social Welfare and Development 
  • Department of Agriculture 

According to Canda, some P6 billion will be available in a couple of days once the General Appropriations Act or the budget bill for 2022 is signed into law. 

"We haven't received any request for [funds] augmentation from the Department of Health. The news we've gotten is only from the DSWD," Canda said. 

"Once the situation is at critical level, the agency should request, and automatically we will receive the fund."

'Immensely depleted' claim challenged 

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.

Duterte on Tuesday night 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.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

OMICRON VARIANT

PALACE

PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE

SUPER TYPHOON ODETTE

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