Malacañang on Wednesday admitted that 25 percent or P41.25 billion of the P165.5-billion Bayanihan 2 funds has yet to be released.
The money was intended to boost the government’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and help the economy recover.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. made the admission in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on Wednesday, a day after 37 members of the House of Representatives filed a resolution seeking an investigation into the unreleased funds.
“To begin with, it is 25 percent so [the] bulk of the money for Bayanihan 2 has been spent,” Roque said.
He explained that the executive department needs more time to be able to utilize the remaining funds under the Bayanihan 2 or the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act.
Roque did not disclose the items covered by the unreleased funds and the intended beneficiaries.
“I don’t think there is any justification for not spending it at a time when people need it but let’s just say that we need a little more time to spend it and that’s why Congress passed a law to extend the validity of Bayanihan 2,” he added.
The validity of Bayanihan 2 funds was only until Dec. 19, 2020, but Congress extended it to June 30, 2021.
In the resolution filed by lawmakers, most of them allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, it was noted that only 73.74 percent of the Bayanihan funds has been released by the Department of Budget and Management.
The lawmakers said the utilization rates of the funds had not been reported by implementing agencies.
“The delays in releases forego the opportunity to rescue the economy and correlate with actual economic losses, as evidenced by the dramatic decline in lending amid the delays in infusing capital to government financial institutions,” the resolution read.
Meanwhile, Malacañang clarified that it is not rejecting the proposed Bayanihan 3 or the Bayanihan to Arise As One Act, the third economic stimulus package that would provide a P420 billion fund to help the economy recover.
“Were not actually rejecting it; we are thankful that it was filed,” it said.
“But right now, we’re not sure if we should implement it yet because number one, 25 percent of Bayanihan 2 still has to be spent and number two, of course, we have trillions of pesos in the stimulus package embedded already in the 2021 budget.”
Roque said the government has to identify budget sources first before Congress appropriates.
“While we are appreciative of Bayanihan 3, we’re saying perhaps it’s a bit premature as of yet,” he said.
In his public address on Monday, President Duterte thanked Congress for its help in the government’s efforts to address the pandemic, specifically for appropriating funds for Covid-19 response.
Duterte said he does not begrudge Congress if it becomes “overstrict” when it comes to the usage of funds and added that he will not let the funds appropriated for Covid-19 response go to corruption.