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President just joking, no need to sell Philippine assets —Diokno

The Philippines does not need to sell its assets to avail of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, and President Rodrigo Duterte was only joking when he raised the possibility, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno said Thursday.

In a virtual briefing with the House of Representatives Committee on Economic Affairs, Diokno assured lawmakers that the Philippines has enough funds for its war chest against the coronavirus.

"Hindi natin kailangan magbenta ng asset para maka-avail. Nagbibiro lang po si Presidente," he told lawmakers.

Diokno was responding to a question regarding the Philippines' financial position amid increased spending due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Just this Tuesday, Duterte again raised the possibility of selling Philippine assets to make funds to procure vaccines against COVID-19 once available.

"If there is a thing that develops which is really good for you, mauna ako. Mag-utang ako. Magpabili ako kung saan puwede magpabili ng lupa. Ibili ko ng medicine," he said.

Duterte mentioned such a possibility in April, saying this would be considered if funds for the fight against the disease would run out.

This was reinforced by Malacañang earlier this month when Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. on July 3 said assets would be sold to ensure that the Philippines could pay for vaccines.

"Basta po mayroon ng gamot diyan sa COVID-19. Basta may bakuna, ibebenta natin lahat ng ari-arian ng gobyerno para makabili po tayo para sa ating mga kababayan," he said.

On Thursday, however, Diokno said the Philippines has enough funds to finance this as he cited the country's foreign exchange reserves.

Latest data available from the BSP show that the gross international reserves (GIR) stood at a record $93.32 billion as of end-June.

"Let me assure you na hindi natin kailangan magbenta ng assets... Hindi natin kailangan. Maraming pera ang Pilipinas," Diokno said.

The World Health Organization has also assured the Philippines of an equitable share of the COVID-19 vaccine once available.

The Department of Finance (DOF) earlier this month said borrowings have reached P1.22 trillion in the first four months of 2020, as the administration ramped its reliance on lending to fund the COVID-19 response and economic relief initiatives.

In June, Roque said the Philippines has secured at least $5.758 billion in loans to support efforts against the coronavirus.

For his part, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III assured that the government borrowing policy is "conservative," as more loans are being processed to boost the country's war chest against the coronavirus pandemic. —LDF, GMA News