POSTSCRIPT / December 21, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Wala tayong pera’ quip of Duterte hit

SUPER typhoon “Odette” (aka “Rai” internationally) exited Saturday, leaving at least 375 people dead, after knocking down power and communications lines, flooding communities, and destroying crops, houses and other structures worth billions of pesos.

At the peak of its fury, Odette packed sustained winds of 195 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 270 kph as it barreled through the Visayas.

The number of fatalities is still rising but not expected to surpass that of typhoon “Yolanda” (aka “Haiyan”), which ravaged the same Visayas provinces on Nov. 8, 2013, and left 7,300 people dead.

Government teams and volunteers have started the clearing and rebuilding work, looking after victims who need food, water, medicines, and shelter. Until late Sunday, there was a dearth of timely government and private media reports from the area.

President Duterte shocked many listeners when he said on TV days ago that with its huge spending, including that for the pandemic, the government was running out of funds – as if he was angling for donations or suggesting calamity victims should not expect much.

His “wala tayong pera” (we’ve run out of money) disclosure failed to convince people who see wanton spending by officials. But on Saturday, he promised P2 billion in aid.

It was amusing that while Duterte was surveying the stricken area from an airplane, Vice President Leni Robredo was on the ground helping and comforting typhoon victims.

After landing, Duterte went to Maasin City, his birthplace, in Southern Leyte where he was briefed by local officials. He was also shown in later Malacañang videos meeting officials of Cebu and evacuees in Bohol.

 ‘Irresponsible, baseless’ – iLEAD

PRESIDENT Duterte’s remark about funds running out elicited such reactions as that of Zy-za Nadine Suzara, Executive Director at the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy. (iLEAD Philippines @iLEAD_PH is a non-profit think tank consultancy and resource center focusing on strategic policy work to strengthen democratic institutions.)

On Twitter as Budget Babe @znsuzara, she said: “I previously mentioned that there are three special purpose funds that can be tapped by the national government for emergency relief operations: Quick Response Funds, NDRMM Funds, President’s Contingent Fund.

“The 2020 and 2021 GAA are both still valid. Both Houses of Congress recently approved extending the validity of the 2021 GAA.

“This is important in the aftermath of typhoon Odette not only because the validity of 2021 QRF, NDRRM, and Contingent Fund will be extended, but also because this gives room for Congress to again reallocate funds.

“Typhoon Odette left massive destruction. Based on experience monitoring funding requests and releases during Typhoon Yolanda, it looks like the national government will have to spend billions just for humanitarian relief – food, water, emergency shelter, medicines.

“Funds will also be needed immediately for debris clearing, transportation and logistics, reestablishing power and utilities, especially in remote areas. Otherwise, relief operations – not even by the international community – cannot begin.

“This scenario is compounded by COVID.

“If in case the P6.5 billion total available balance of the 2020 and 2021 NDRRM Fund and/or the Contingent Fund are not enough, the Executive branch needs to identify other funding sources.

“What are other possible funding options? I’m talking about the appropriations (i.e., authority to spend), not just the cash supply because the Treasury will take care of that anyway as long as it does not exceed the total budget for 2021.

“One option to fund the immediate budgetary requirements for humanitarian relief and other emergency measures is for the Executive branch to work with Congress in passing a bill that would allow the reallocation of funds – something similar to Bayanihan 1 and 2.

“Critical first question to ask there is: How much is the unutilized balance in the 2021 GAA?

“DBM reports show that as of Dec. 1, 2021, the full P4.5 trillion has already been released to agencies. Next question: How much of that has been utilized? Only P3.4 trillion.

“Therefore, there is around P1.1 trillion in the 2021 GAA that has not been used. Might be lower if that is updated to status of fund to date, but there is no way P1.1 trillion can be spent in a matter of a few weeks.

“That P1.1 trillion can be further broken down into specific funds within the different departments/ agencies.

“So it is true that the national budget has been depleted?

“Let me tell you which departments have the biggest unutilized balances (over P50 billion unobligated funds) – DepEd, DoH, DILG, DND, DPWH. There are many others but those are the top ones (in no particular order).

“Those unutilized balances can be considered for reallocation but it would not be sound policy to reallocate funds from DepEd and DoH since those are for salaries of teachers and well, the pandemic is far from over.

“Of the remaining ones (DILG, DND, DPWH), guess which one has the highest unutilized balance: DPWH at nearly P100 billion.

“The DILG, DND, and DPWH will all be involved in emergency operations, but DPWH will not immediately need P100 billion for debris clearing.

“So assuming the special purpose funds ran out and Congress passes a bill similar to Bayanihan 1 and 2, they should take a hard look at DPWH funds again. It won’t hurt to rechannel parts of that P100 billion to help millions of victims in provinces that are now devastated.

“One other technical budget question is this: What should be augmented? Well, definitely the budgets of frontline agencies. The NDRRM Fund should be augmented too – this would enable the national government to provide additional funding for LGUs.

“This is why I find Duterte’s statement extremely irresponsible. It is baseless.

“In times of crisis, a leader should know the budget and what can be done with it. It will fuel emergency relief and response.

“Delayed budget release = delayed rescue efforts.”

P.S. Figures are based on this DBM report: https://dbm.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/e-Fund_Releases/SAOB2021/3rdQuarter/Dec1/ANNEX%20A-FY%202021%20Q3%20SAAODB.pdf

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 21, 2021)

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