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DSWD yet to spend over P80B of budget amid COVID-19, typhoons

The Department of Social Welfare and Development has yet to spend over P83 billion of its allocations under the 2019 and 2020 general appropriations acts, and the two Bayanihan COVID-19 response laws, senators learned on Tuesday.

At the Senate deliberations of the DSWD's proposed P174.9-billion budget for 2021, Senator Franklin Drilon said it was "almost criminal" for the DSWD to have unspent funds when Filipinos needed aid amid the pandemic and the recent disasters.

"Not to distribute P83 billion to our affected countrymen is almost criminal and I say that with emphasis," the minority leader Drilon said during the plenary deliberations.

"This is almost criminal. Hindi po pupuwede magpatuloy ito na mayroon tayong pera, hindi natin ibinibigay sa nangangailangan," he added.

On behalf of its officials, DSWD budget sponsor Senator Imee Marcos said P75 billion from the agency's budget in 2020 remained unobligated. Only 53% of its funds had so far been spent.

Another P1.5 billion from its 2019 allocations remained in its coffers.

For the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1, DSWD still has P1.04 billion unobligated and another P5.7 billion under the second Bayanihan law, according to Marcos.

Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan urged his colleagues to pass a resolution pressing the DSWD to fast-track the release of such funds.

Cash available

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said these unspent funds could be used to immediately help thousands of Filipino families affected by the series of typhoons that swept through the country in the past weeks.

He pointed out that both the appropriations and the cash were readily available.

"This year we will collect P2.5 trillion in taxes,  we will be borrowing P3 trillion in the market— that's P5.5 trillion. Ang disbursement natin is P4.3 trillion, meaning to say ginastos mo ang buong budget. You still have 1.2 trillion available in cash," he said.

Hearing this, Drilon got even more frustrated.

"Wala na po tayong mukhang ihaharap sa taumbayan. May pera tayo pero ayaw nating gumawa ng programa para mailagay ang pera sa bulsa nila. The economy will benefit first because we solve the social issue of hunger, and number two, we stimulate the econonmy by putting funds in the pckets of our people," Drilon said.

Hampered distribution, delayed releases

Marcos said she shared the same dismay on the apparent "anemic" response to the victims of the pandemic and typhoons.

Nonetheless, she acknowledged some factors that might have contributed to the slow spending of DSWD.

"The year 2020 has rendered any distribution extremely difficult but also in addition, the releases [from the Department of Budget and Management] had been very much delayed like the Bayanihan 2 which only came last week," she said.

Recto reiterated his proposal to extend the validity of some allocations for COVID-19 response under the GAA 2020 and Bayanihan 2 until the first quarter next year. -NB, GMA News