By Cai Ordinario, March 16, 2020; Business Mirror

The Duterte administration has announced a P27.1 billion package to finance efforts to fight 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The largest chunk of the package is P14 billion for programs and projects of the Department of Tourism (DOT) amounting to P14 billion from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to support the tourism industry.

The smallest allocation was P1 billion for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for its Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-Asenso (P3) Microfinancing special loan package of the Small Business Corp. (SBC) for affected micro entrepreneurs/micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and other assistance.

“As directed by President Duterte, the government will provide targeted and direct programs to guarantee that benefits will go to our workers and other affected sectors. We have enough but limited resources, so our job is to make sure that we have sufficient funds for programs mitigating the adverse effects of COVID-19 on our economy,” he added.

The package also consists of P3.1 billion to contribute directly to efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the acquisition of test kits.

DOF said these funds came from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The list also includes P3 billion for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)’s Scholarship Programs to support the upskilling and reskilling of affected and temporarily displaced workers and the P2.8 billion for the Survival and Recovery (SURE) Aid Program of the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Credit Policy Council (DA-ACPC), which provides loans of up to P25,000 each at zero interest for smallholder farmers and fisherfolk affected by calamity and disasters.

The DOF also said around P2 billion was allocated for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for social protection programs for vulnerable workers, to be used for wage subsidy/financial support to COVID affected establishments and workers and P1.2 billion for the Social Security System (SSS) to cover unemployment benefits for dislocated workers.

Apart from these, DOF said the government has set up additional support mechanisms as earlier identified by the Economic Development Cluster such as a loan program of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) intended for affected government employees and retirees and funds from government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCCs) to assist airlines and the rest of the tourism industry.

The Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), DOF said, is also offering assistance for health emergency or the Rehabilitation Support Program on Severe Events (RESPONSE). The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has also granted temporary and rediscounting relief measures for financial institutions, as approved by the Monetary Board (MB).

Secretary Dominguez also said the government will go ahead on regular budgeted expenditures, as accelerated government spending is now even more necessary to stimulate economic activity and provide direct support to vulnerable groups and individuals.

“The country and the government have all the tools—medical, financial and monetary—to successfully handle this situation,” he said.

Last week, local economists supported the creation of a stimulus package to boost the economy and respond to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian earlier said he is filing a resolution to assess the impact of Covid-19 and create a stimulus package worth P28 billion.

National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Undersecretary for Planning and Policy Rosemarie G. Edillon told BusinessMirror that the administration is already preparing a stimulus package but no amount has yet been set.

De La Salle University economist Maria Ella C. Oplas expressed her concern that a higher budget could be open to abuse. However, a smaller budget could be better allocated for health services.

Specifically, the funds should be used to purchase and disseminate test kits that will be useful to prevent people who experience some symptoms from contracting Covid-19 when they go to hospitals where there are patients found positive for the virus.

University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) School of Economics Dean Cid Terosa told BusinessMirror that while he supports any effort to stimulate the economy, the P28 billion worth proposal of Senator Gatachalian may be enough for the time being.

However, if Covid-19 and its negative effect on the economy lingers, Terosa said the country may require more funds.