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Belt-tightening measures proposed to fund stimulus

A KEY legislator has proposed that the government implement austerity measures in order to afford the third stimulus package, with economic managers still scrambling to identify funds for a measure that would become the third Bayanihan law if passed.

“Right now… naghahanap po ng excess fund sa mga ahensiya (the economic managers are looking at funding sources from agency budgets),” Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo said at a televised news briefing.

Iyong mga hindi naman ganoon ka-essential na gastusin ng mga agencies, halimbawa po iyong mga kunwari may mga travel… baka naman puwedeng ipagpaliban muna dahil talagang hindi naman safe mag-travel pa sa ngayon (We can look at some non-essential agency spending items like travel, which could be foregone for now given the restrictions on travel),” according to Ms. Quimbo, a former economics professor at the University of the Philippines.

At least three committees at the House of Representatives have approved the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act or Bayanihan III, which sets aside about P405.6 billion to help the country recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco has said the chamber will fast-track the approval of the measure once session resumes on May 14.

Ms. Quimbo said President Rodrigo R. Duterte may certify the bill as urgent once economic managers figure out how to fund it.

Ang pinakamagandang mangyari ay ma-certify as urgent ‘yan ng Pangulo. Pero sa tingin ko po, mangyayari ‘yan as soon as ma-identify nang maayos ng ating economic managers ang fund sources. Ngayon, admittedly, ‘yan ang pinakamalaking obstacle (The biggest obstacle to an urgent certification is finding the funds for the stimulus package),” she said.

Aside from taking in excess capital and more dividends from government-owned and -controlled corporations, Ms. Quimbo said the measure could also be funded by savings from the 2020 and 2021 national budgets.

Also on Wednesday, Senator Franklin M. Drilon said about P500 billion from the 2021 national budget could be realigned to fund the bill.

“Potentially, we can review about P500 billion in the budget for activities which have not been undertaken,” he told ABS-CBN News Channel.

Mr. Drilon said Congress can review the funds allotted for the programs of the government’s anti-communist task force and other contingency funds in the 2021 budget.

He said however that legislators need to validate whether the funds have been disbursed.

Terry L. Ridon, convenor of infrastructure think-tank InfraWatchPH, said the funds earmarked for some pending infrastructure projects could also be used.

“The first way forward is to reconsider all pending non-urgent infrastructure projects, the funds for which can be used for government’s social programs for the pandemic,” he said in a Facebook messenger chat.

“Government, through Congress, can do whatever is necessary to respond to a continuing public emergency. For historical context, infrastructure funding in 2013 was realigned by Congress to respond to Yolanda,” he said. “Congress and Malacañang can do the same to address the coronavirus crisis.”

“This balancing act ensures that infrastructure projects can still provide day jobs to marginalized families while resolving real gaps in the government social response to the pandemic,” Mr. Ridon said.

John Paolo R. Rivera, an economist at the Asian Institute of Management, said the bill, if passed, could boost household spending and economic productivity.

“Passing Bayanihan III will definitely ramp up our economy. With its pump priming effect to both demand- and supply-side, it will stimulate consumption and production that will allow our economy to move faster than it is now and reach growth targets,” he said in a Viber message.

“Delaying this means delaying economic growth too,” Mr. Rivera said, noting that the bill is more urgent now after Philippine inflation came in at 4.5% in April. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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