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Bayan Muna questions Duterte’s claim of not having enough funds for COVID-19 response

Leaders of progressive group Bayan Muna on Tuesday questioned President Rodrigo Duterte's claim that there are not enough funds for the government's response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) emergency.

In a statement, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares and party-list Representative Carlos Zarate said that there are available funds for COVID-19 response, but that Duterte is hiding his inability and "inefficiency" in allocating resources and distributing financial assistance to the public.

"It is not true that the reason for the confusion and the failure to give financial assistance to people is because there are no funds. He promised us that he will be able to get all the funds, if we give him emergency powers through the Bayanihan Law. But until now, many are still left without help from government," Zarate said.

Zarate cited the more than P189 billion in unreleased appropriations Duterte mentioned in his second weekly report to Congress that may be discontinued from the 2019 and 2020 national budgets to fund COVID-19 response measures.

"There are billions in the budget that are yet untapped which were actually contained in his report but President Duterte is very slow and inefficient in tapping these funds," he said.

"The COVID virus hit the world in January and the Philippines had COVID cases by February, and yet by April, President Duterte’s administration is still crafting guidelines," he added.

Colmenares, meanwhile, said that Duterte only wants the public to have pity on him in saying that there are not enough funds.

He said the available funds for the COVID-19 response which Duterte mentioned in his report amount to P291 billion in total, more than the funds needed for the social amelioration program.

"President Duterte does not want to admit that his administration is slow in responding to the crisis and  has not been able to give the necessary funds to the LGUs as well as the 18 million families he promised to help when he asked Congress to pass the Bayanihan Law," Colmenares said.

"Ang problema nya ay hindi nya nire-release ang pondo para mabigyan ang lahat pero kung ano man ang na release niya, magulo at inefficient ang pag-implement," he added.

Earlier, lawmakers said that there is P275 billion in off-budget funds that can be used to help address the COVID-19 crisis on top of the funds from the 2020 General Appropriations Act that can also be tapped.

Duterte, however, said this amount is not enough, and asked Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez to find more funds.

As of Tuesday, a total of 3,764 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Philippines, with 177 deaths and 84 recoveries. — Erwin Colcol/BM, GMA News