Covid-19 response funds, a corruption goldmine

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The Duterte regime’s Covid-19 fund worth billions of pesos is a corruption goldmine. Government reports last June 25 estimate that ₱168.7 billion or 25.43% of the entire ₱665.7 billion appropriated for the program have not been spent by various agencies of the Duterte government since March 2020 for unexplained reasons.

These funds were from the Bayanihan 1 (₱393.63 billion) and Bayanihan 2 (₱205.12 billion), and budget appropriations to various agencies in the national budget for 2021 (₱66.97 billion).

The biggest chunk of unspent funds are in the Department of Health (DOH). Of its ₱157.4-billion fund, it only managed to spend ₱51.4 billion to procure vaccines and support health workers, among others.

Particularly, it only spent ₱1.12 billion of the ₱5.26-billion allocation for the procurement of vaccines. The ₱9-billion budget for payment of special risk allowance of health workers was only released last June 29.

The ₱16.24-million allocation for health workers at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital remains unutilized. This is despite the continuous clamor of the sector led by the Alliance of Health Workers.

End of Bayanihan 2

Government agencies with unspent funds include the Department of Social Welfare and Development or DSWD (₱1.3 billion), Department of Public Works and Highways (₱1 billion), Department of Agriculture (₱658.3 million), Department of the Interior and Local Government (₱580.471 million), DOH (₱266.2 million), and Department of Labor and Employment (₱224 million.)

Unspent Bayanihan 2 funds will be reverted back to the National Treasury as the extended law expired on June 30. Approximately 4.6% or ₱6.5 billion of the ₱141.6 billion of the extended Bayanihan 2 remains unspent by various government departments.

Several personalities and groups criticized the regime’s negligence. According to Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, the expiration of Bayanihan 2 with billions of still unspent funds is a “serious indictment” of the regime’s negligence and failure to respond to the pandemic.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers also criticized the Department of Education for failing to utilize the ₱1.7-billion allocation for distance learning. The said budget was particularly allocated for the printing of learning modules, and aid for teachers among others.

The regime’s free public transportation program also ended with the expiration of Bayanihan 2. This is despite shortages in public transport especially in Metro Manila.

Spending probe

Sen. Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, said that the committee will probe into the spending of each government agency to identify the reasons behind the slow utilization of funds.

Last month, the Senate also questioned the sluggish disbursement by the DBM despite the implementation of the Anti-Red Tape Authority which supposedly aims to expedite the process.
Last February and May, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Sen. Risa Hontiveros respectively filed their resolutions to audit the Bayanihan funds. Thirty-seven lawmakers also filed similar resolutions in the Lower House.

Last July 3, Sen. Manny Pacquiao alleged that ₱10.4 billion in Social Amelioration Program (SAP) of the DSWD are missing. He said that of the 1.8 million beneficiaries who were supposed to the cash aid through mobile application Starpay, only 500,000 were able to claim their share.

Aside from DSWD, he also tagged the DOH and Department of Energy as corrupt. He alleged that the DOH is buying near-expiry drugs at regular prices when prices should be lower.

“Without proper accounting, we cannot blame the people for thinking that this administration is trying to create an enormous war chest in the run-up for the 2022 elections,” said Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate.

Covid-19 response funds, a corruption goldmine