WITH almost P40 billion of the funds allotted to address gaps in the country’s Covid-19 response measures still not yet released, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan seeks a Senate probe on the snail-paced disbursement and utilization of funds under Bayanihan 2.
“Bakit mabagal? Minadali natin sa Kongreso ang dalawang Bayanihan at ang budget para masigurong may magagamit na pondo para sa maayos na pagkontrol sa Covid. Alam natin na ito ang susi sa pagbangon ng ating ekonomiya. Pero kung from disbursement at utilization sobrang bagal, baka patay na ang kabayo, ‘ika nga,” Pangilinan said.
Senate Resolution 647 was filed as an online survey in Southeast Asia showed that a majority or 53.7% of its Filipino respondents from a more specialized cohort than respondents in national surveys disapproved of the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Findings by the Singapore-based ASEAN Studies Centre released Wednesday showed that among Southeast Asian countries, Filipinos in the policy, research, business, civil society, and media communities had the lowest approval rating for their government’s response to the pandemic.
According to the report of the Office of the President submitted to the Senate January 4, only a total of P103.24 billion of the P140 billion Bayanihan 2 funds have been released.
In Senate Resolution 647, Pangilinan pointed out the delays in the release of the salary of contact tracers, hazard pay and special allowances of health workers, cash subsidies to jeepney drivers, and P83 billion of funds of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as well as the underspending of the Departments of Transportation, Public Works and Highways, and Agriculture.
“These delays and underspending are unacceptable given that Bayanihan 2 was signed into law September 11, 2020,” Pangilinan said.
“Five months na since naisabatas ang Bayanihan 2, ngunit ngayon ay 25% pa lang ang nagagamit ng DA. We cannot wait another 7 months para lang maging 50% ito lalo na ngayong hinaharap natin ang kawalan ng trabaho, mataas na presyo ng bilihin, nagkululang na suplay ng baboy,” he added.
At last week’s Senate hearing, DA revealed that project implementation under the Bayanihan 2 is only at 25%, with no measures so far to address the African swine flu that has crippled the P200-billion hog industry and caused the drastic rise of prices of pork in the market.
Senate Resolution 647 aims to direct the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the release and utilization of the Bayanihan 2 funds to address the critical gaps in the country’s COVID-19 response measures.
In the resolution, Pangilinan noted the Philippines’ abysmal rankings for Covid-19 management and vaccine procurement, where the country ranked 79th among 98 nations in the containment of the pandemic according to a study by the Lowy Institute.
“We can’t let bureaucracy slow us down from delivering much needed aid and support. Hindi natin pwedeng pinaghihintay ang ating mga kababayan para sa ayuda na dapat ay matagal na sana nilang nakuha. We have to know where else are we underspending and how we can unlock the funds and speed up the disbursement,” he said.
A similar House Resolution was filed in Congress February 8. House Resolution No. 1558 urges the House Committee on Public Accounts to probe the release and utilization of the Bayanihan 2 funds.
“We are still in a pandemic which means government must act with a sense of urgency: fast, efficient, and transparent. With the way things are now, who knows how long it will take to get the ball rolling. Tututukan natin ito sa Senado,” Pangilinan said.
The senator earlier expressed doubts over a possible Bayanihan 3 due to the delay of disbursement and utilization of Bayanihan 2.
The Philippines recently surpassed 540,000 in the number of Covid-19 positive cases with the additional 1,345 cases reported yesterday, February 10.
The pandemic has claimed 11,401 Filipino lives, and is responsible for the biggest drop in Philippine post-war economy.