PH 'financially prepared' for COVID-19 quarantine measures until end of May

April 13, 2020

CNN Philippines — The Philippine government is ready to fund the COVID-19 assistance program for crisis-affected citizens until the end of May, Finance Secretary Carlos 'Sonny' Dominguez III said Monday.

"We have actually planned until the end of May for financing," Dominguez told CNN Philippines' The Source. "I'm not saying that we will extend it (enhanced community quarantine) beyond April 30. But our plan has been really to fund our requirements to beat this COVID from April and May."

Dominguez said officials remain hopeful the economy can reopen by next month, with community quarantine directives extended until April 30. However, he noted economic managers will continue to monitor the health sector's situation before making any decision.

"Before we open the economy, I think it is very important for us to know the potential risks of doing so... That's why we have to be careful when we evaluate how and when we are going to open up our economy," he added.

The lockdown measures implemented in different regions nationwide have left over one million Filipinos jobless, as of the Labor Department's latest record.

Currently, the government's social amelioration program covers only the "poorest of the poor," with the low-income households expected to receive ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 worth of monthly assistance. DOLE has also rolled out several programs to assist displaced workers, but some beneficiaries reported that they have yet to receive feedback on their applications.

President Rodrigo Duterte has also earlier floated the possibility of selling government properties should the country fall short of funds for the COVID-19 response. Dominguez, however, stressed that the government's budget for the program remains sufficient, noting that the chief executive may have only referred to generating additional funds to "restart the economy."

Economic team plotting recovery plan

Dominguez reiterated that while the economy may face "zero growth" this year, the Philippines continues to be in a "good position" to handle the global crisis.

He noted the Philippine economy expanded an average of 6.4 percent in the past three years, and that the country has had a "very good" credit rating.

The national debt might also grow from 41 percent to 47 percent of what the economy produces, but the Finance chief said the higher debt-to-GDP ratio is something the government "can very well afford."

The World Bank also earlier approved a $500 million (about ₱25 billion) loan to support the country's efforts in the fight against COVID-19. Dominguez, who said the Philippines may borrow a total of $5.7 billion for the relief efforts, also raised the possibility of borrowing from the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Dominguez also stressed the program for the COVID-19 assistance will amount to over ₱1-trillion and will be allocated under four socio-economic strategies— emergency subsidy for vulnerable sectors, resources for health programs, fiscal emergency actions and initiatives to keep the economy afloat, and an economic recovery plan after the crisis.