Gov’t prodded to use P10B ECQ savings in fight vs COVID-19

A HOUSE leader on Friday urged the government to use an estimated P10  billion savings from the 30-day enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and low fuel prices for the fight against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero, president of the 54-strong Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI), said he estimates that at least P10 billion is available from those savings. “That amount could be used immediately to help our affected people especially the poor and to procure badly needed personal protective equipment for our frontline health workers,” said Romero.

Romero said most state agencies are closed and are therefore not spending their funds for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) like travel, fuel and utilities during the enhanced community quarantine period.

He said the MOOE budget of the entire bureaucracy for this year amounts to P1.6 trillion. “One month is equivalent to 8.33 percent or P13.3 billion of MOOE saved. Assuming frontline agencies like the Department of Health are spending P3.3 billion, there is P10 billion available,” he added.

Romero, who is an economist, pointed out that huge savings would be realized as well from the low cost of crude in the world market. He noted that in July 2019, when the administration’s economic team was putting together the 2020 national budget, its estimates for the government’s expenses for petroleum, oil, lubricants, electricity, and other oil-based spending were based on a crude oil price of $60 to $75 per barrel.

The House leader said the price has steadily fallen since January, when President Duterte signed the budget for this year.

“The cost of crude is now $23-$24 per barrel, less than half of the assumed rates. This means that the government is realizing a lot of savings. In fact, we can drastically cut appropriations for oil-related expenses and still maintain the same level of operations as projected, such as the number of trips per government vehicle,” he said.

In fact, he said if the price remains at less than $25 per barrel, state agencies can authorize more trips for their vehicles like additional patrols for the police.

Romero pointed out that local government units, too, are generating similar savings from the lockdown and low cost of oil that they can use in the war against COVID-19.

In a related development Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo said she has placed herself on home quarantine although she was never in close contact with Yap during special session.

“I am doing fine and I have not manifested any symptoms that accompany the disease,” said Castelo, the vice chairperson of the House committee on Metro Manila development.

However, she said since she was at the House plenary hall for the session, “I have decided to self quarantine and practice health protocols.”

Castelo urged all her colleagues and their staff who were at the session hall “performing their legislative duties” to do the same.