By Ben O. de Vera, March 30, 2020; Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Philippines is con­sidering the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) pitch to finance more health infrastructure across the region in order to better respond to future health crises.

“Together with the Department of Health, we will evaluate the AIIB’s offer, as future-proofing our health care system is definitely a key element in our program,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said.

Last week, the Beijing-based AIIB, in which the Philippines is a founding member, said it was “working to scale up infrastructure investment—including in public health, healthcare and information and communications technology—to better serve members impacted by COVID-19.”

“There has never been a greater need for a multilateral and truly global coordinated effort to ease the economic burden experienced by all. We have a responsibility to our members who face tremendous pressure to maintain the health and safety of their citizens while managing the impact of an economic downturn. It is our duty to be flexible and responsive in a time of crisis so our members can continue investing in sanitation, healthcare and technology-enabled infrastructure,” AIIB chair and president Jin Liqun said.

Citing a recent study it undertook, the AIIB said there was “direct correlation between quality of overall infrastructure and health security, indicating that infrastructure development is a key part of health security and epidemic preparedness.”

“The COVID-19 virus has exposed the critical need for countries to also ensure preparedness for the needs of an aging population,” the AIIB added.

The AIIB said it “will announce a number of public health infrastructure financing options for its members in the coming days and weeks, to help build up economic resilience and mitigate the impact of future health crises.”

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank last Friday committed at least $1.6 billion in additional financial aid to the Philippines—its host-country—amid the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of an earlier $3-million grant to put up a testing laboratory in Pampanga.

The Washington-based World Bank, meanwhile, already pledged a $100-million loan to support the Philippines’ fight against COVID-19.

National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon said last week that since the Philippines was eyeing $1 billion to $2 billion in additional loans from multilateral lenders, the actual share of foreign borrowings would be higher than the 25 percent of total which had been programmed for 2020.

De Leon said an ad referendum of the Cabinet-level Development Budget Coordination Committee was ongoing to adjust this year’s borrowing mix.

Under the 2020 national budget, borrowings were programmed to hit a record P1.4 trillion, with 75 percent to be sourced locally mainly through the issuance of government securities.