Speaker backs austerity measures, calls for planing, transparency in war vs COVID-19

Alan Peter Cayetano

SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano on Sunday called for planning and transparency in the war against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID)-19 even as he supported the decision of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to impose austerity measures to raise more funds to fight the deadly disease.

In talks with reporters over the weekend, Cayetano proposed a dialogue between the DBM and leaders of Congress on projects, programs and activities that would be affected by the cost-cutting measures.

“The economic team has always been saying that the infrastructure program should not be touched, unless the project is useless or cannot be implemented, because infrastructure drives economic activity, especially in remote parts of the country. And in fact, it also fights insurgency,” said Cayetano.

In a radio interview over dzBB Sunday, Cayetano clarified that infrastructure projects under 2020 national budget is not "pork barrel." Cayetano also asked DBM not to touch the allocations intended for agriculture, health, and tourism sectors.

"Hindi po pork barrel ito," said Cayetano.

"Lahat ng projects ay ina-approve ng Executive, ina-approve ng Senado at House at very specific projects ito and we are not even referring to specific projects yet we are talking about the general principle and ang infra has to be last to go at unanahin ang wawalisin na pera na makikita mo na na hindi na talaga gagamitin pa," Cayetano pointed out.

He said he could understand that budget officials want to be extra careful in the use of funds because of graft and corruption cases filed against previous bureaucrats.

“But there is now complete transparency, and people will understand how funds are used,” Cayetano said.

Last Wednesday, the DBM issued a circular withholding the release of 35 percent of programmed appropriations for this year and imposing 10-percent mandatory savings on non-essential expenditures.

Cayetano said there are certain infrastructure projects programmed for this year which could be undertaken next year.

However, he said there are roads and bridges whose implementation this year could not be postponed.

“For instance, an ongoing multi-year bridge construction, you should not touch the funds for it. Implementation has to continue,” he said.

He said workers in projects such as the example he cited expect to go back to their jobs once the extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is lifted or relaxed.

“Remember, there is life after Covid-19 or after ECQ. It means that there should be development in every part of the country,” he stressed.

The Speaker also cited allocations for travel as funds that could be used to fight the coronavirus disease.

“For example travel, what do we do with the budget for travel of the government since we are not traveling outside the country,” he said.

Another item the Speaker said could be reduced is expenses for paper and other office supplies.

He said if an office has ordered P500-million worth of paper and because the government is encouraging its agencies to go paperless, the remaining P400 million could be cancelled and the money diverted to the anti-Covid-19 fund.

The Speaker also reiterated his call for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to expand its financial aid distribution in Metro Manila and other urban areas.

In areas outside Metro Manila, he said between 76 percent and 90 percent of families have received aid.

“In Metro Manila, it’s 54 percent and 64 percent in Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) and 64 percent in Central Luzon. So in these areas, which also happen to have many Covid-19 cases, additional cash assistance is needed. The recommendation is really to look at communities that have received less than 80 percent,” he said.

In passing the Bayanihan to Heal As One Law, Congress targeted at least 18 million poor and near-poor families to get financial aid.