President Rodrigo Duterte has denied accusations that the government is “underspending” funds earmarked for the state’s pandemic response.
The President on Saturday night took a swipe at lawmakers for lamenting that billions-worth of funds allocated under the Bayanihan 2 were supposedly unused.
He particularly singled out Senators Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto III, who announced that they are running for president and vice president in the May 2022 elections.
“I keep hearing Senator Lacson if I’m not mistaken — I forgot the others — Sotto, that we are underspending the Bayanihan (budget),” Duterte said during his televised meeting with the pandemic task force.
Lacson and Sotto did not publicly criticize the government over its unspent funds for the health crisis, but some opposition lawmakers like Francis Pangilinan have expressed frustration over the supposed failure of the Executive branch to utilize all of the budget granted by the Congress.
During the meeting, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III assured Duterte and the public that around P660 billion of the money for Covid-19 response have been disbursed to concerned agencies.
“We have already released P660 billion. What they are referring to as ‘underspending’ is P6 billion or one percent of the total,” Dominguez said, citing data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
Duterte, after hearing Dominguez’s response, advised lawmakers to listen to the Executive department.
“What is wrong with Congress is that they are not listening when you are talking. It would be better to give it a little shout,” the President told Dominguez.
The Bayanihan 2, which was enacted into law to aid sectors badly-hit by the pandemic, expired on 30 June.
Data from the DBM showed that P6.487 billion out of the P141.59-billion budget released for special appropriations under Bayanihan 2 remain unobligated and were reverted to the Bureau of the Treasury.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado has earlier said that billions-worth of funds downloaded by government agencies for the health crisis remain unspent.
He explained that each agency had their own expenditure patterns which the national government cannot control, noting that sluggish spending can only be addressed by the “implementing agencies themselves.”
Lawmakers have yet to respond to Duterte’s remarks at press time.