There is more than enough money for bigger emergency aid and stimulus in Bayanihan 3 if only the economic managers prioritize ayuda, research group IBON said. There are various sources that the government can immediately tap for a more meaningful Bayanihan 3, said the group. These include at least Php217 billion in unobligated and unpaid obligated funds from Bayanihan 1 and 2, and realigning 2021 budget allocations from less urgent items.
The Php401 billion Bayanihan 3 stimulus bill sponsored by over 290 lawmakers has been passed on second reading at the House of Representatives. Though a larger program than Bayanihan 2, the provisions for emergency aid remain paltry, said IBON. The group said, for instance, that the Php1,000 emergency assistance given twice to each Filipino will mean that the average family in the badly-hit National Capital Region (NCR) will just get the equivalent of around half of the monthly minimum wage. The NCR minimum wage is currently Php537 for an equivalent monthly rate of Php16,300.
The economic managers however have been blocking efforts to increase the aid that will be given to millions of distressed families and enterprises. The government has not even certified Bayanihan 3 as urgent. The budget, finance and treasury departments have also yet to issue a certification on the availability of funds, a constitutional requirement for the passage of bills seeking funds appropriation.
IBON said that the problem is not where to get funding but rather the Duterte administration’s unwillingness to prioritize poor and pandemic-stricken Filipinos. The group said that there are potentially hundreds of billions of pesos available in funding if only the government pushes the priority legislation needed.
Budget department data as of April 15 shows that there are still Php217 billion in funds from Bayanihan 1 and 2. This includes a considerable Php158.4 billion that remains unobligated out of the Php653.4 billion in allotments. Moreover, there is Php58.9 billion in unpaid obligated funds. These are funds allocated for COVID response that have not yet been committed to a specific item or program (unobligated) or have been committed but not yet disbursed (unpaid obligated).
IBON also notes that there are Php5.9 trillion in revenues (Php2.9 trillion) and borrowings (Php3 trillion) estimated for 2021.
IBON stressed that the administration can realign budgetary allocations from items that are now less urgent, given critical pandemic-related needs, and even counter-productive. The government can realign from the huge Php1.8 trillion allotted for debt service (Php1.3 trillion for principal payments and Php531.6 billion for interest payments), Php1.1 trillion for infrastructure, Php9.5 billion for confidential and intelligence funds, and Php19.1 billion for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
The group emphasized that the enormous health and economic crisis requires a proportionately enormous response. This is particularly because the Duterte government’s ill-conceived protracted lockdowns are the biggest reason for the collapse in livelihoods and incomes of tens of millions of Filipinos.
Bayanihan 3 can be a start to the expansionary fiscal policy that IBON has proposed to jumpstart the economy.
The Duterte administration can readily find the funds for meaningful aid and stimulus if it wanted to, IBON said. After 420 days of the government’s poor and stingy response, Filipinos more than ever need a government with the political will and boldness to put the people’s needs first over the profits of a wealthy few.