Pangilinan appeals to govt: Finalize position on Bayanihan 3 in bolstering anti-Covid response

June 15, 2021

SENATOR Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan wants the government to promptly make a decision on Bayanihan 3 so that the Senate can take action as needed.

“The Secretary of Health is saying he needs 66 billion [pesos] between July and December to address the vaccine rollout. The National Treasurer has not issued any certification for the availability of funds for Bayanihan 3. I am not sure what the direction is. There is no certified measure to address this. Does the government have a position on Bayanihan 3?” Pangilinan asked.

At the request of Pangilinan, together with Senators Nancy Binay, Frank Drilon, Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, and Ralph Recto, the Senate on Tuesday reconvened the Senate Committee of the Whole to find out how the national Covid-19 vaccination program is being rolled out.

At the hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque raised the issue of needing an additional 66 billion pesos from July to December to fund testing, maintenance, and other operating expenses, as well as additional hiring as supposedly planned for Bayanihan 3.

Pangilinan, however, pointed out that with 15 days left before July starts, the government doesn’t have a position on Bayanihan 3 yet despite the assertion of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) that it needs the law.

“Why is there no certification, because there are no funds? Of course that should come from the National Treasury. We can rush it. We can work on it, and I think we should in the Senate. But precisely, what is the policy direction? The IATF says they need it, the national treasurer says there is no certification. So where are we?” he said.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said that while it supports Bayanihan 3, a certification from the Bureau of Treasury for the availability of funds is still needed.

DBM said that following an Executive Order by the President, agencies are now identifying possible savings that may be used to augment the funding requirement needed to combat the pandemic while waiting for the final funding requirements from the Department of Health.

The Department of Finance, for its part, committed to take up the matter in the next meeting of the Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC).

The DBCC is composed of the Secretary of Budget and Management as chairman; the Director-General of the NEDA Secretariat as co-chairman; and the Executive Secretary, Secretary of Finance, and the Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines as members. It sets fiscal targets such as the key tax and spending priorities while avoiding an unsustainable rise in the burden of public debt.

With 15 days left also before Bayanihan to Recover as One or Bayanihan 2 expires, Pangilinan raised concerns over the 173 billion pesos unreleased and unspent under Bayanihan 2.

While the Secretary of Health recommends an extension, no concrete action has been taken by the government.

“That extension, likewise, we don’t know where we are in that regard… That too is an issue that needs clarification. Malaking halaga ang 173 billion at kailangan ngayon ng ating mga kababayan dahil milyon na nga ang walang trabaho at gutom at dumadami ang Covid cases sa Iloilo, Davao, Tacloban, at iba pa,” Pangilinan said.

(The Department of Finance has yet to clarify whether the 173 billion pesos can be funded and realigned, and has instead echoed DBM’s position on sourcing funding from the unspent budget of other government agencies).

As of 31 May 2021, about 660.5 billion pesos has already been released to fund the country’s Covid-19 response, with 16 billion pesos used as payment for vaccines.

The Philippines has so far received 12,705,870 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, with 6,680,000 procured and paid for by the national government.