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Unspent

At the Wednesday’s hearing into the proposed P5.024 trillion national budget for 2022 of the Senate finance committee, senators were shocked to discover that less than 30 percent of the P4.5 trillion General Appropriations Act has been disbursed as of July.

With eight months of the year already spent, the mostly unspent funds were supposed to have been part of the Duterte administration’s “Reset, Rebound, Recover” pandemic spending plan for the 2021.

The mind numbing lack of urgency to use the funds for the purposes they were intended would explain why the country’s economy and public health has barely made any progress towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The damning figure was disclosed by Department of Budget and Management officer-in-charge Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie Canda upon questioning from Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.

Canda said the obligation rate, or the percentage of allocated funds considered to have been already assigned for spending – was at around 75 percent. Upon questioning from committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara, she said the 30 percent disbursement rate was taken from the obligation rate, meaning the actual release or spending was much lower.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon found it disturbing that in the middle of a raging pandemic, the government was not doing its best to prop up the economy.

A government’s spending habits and priorities is a reflection of its commitment to the people and one that has spent only 30 percent of its budget for the year when it is already September whilst the country is 18 months into a crippling pandemic is doing its people a grave disservice. The infections are still out of control, hospitals are overwhelmed, and people are hungry, jobless, hopeless and dying. Faced with the burden of an ineffective pandemic response, the Philippine economy is among the worst performing in the region.

Money alone cannot solve all problems. However, when funds made available but not utilized properly, either through sheer incompetence or gross corruption, the unfortunate country that is already battling an unprecedented and prolonged health crisis could have an even bigger problem.

Who is responsible for making sure our country’s funds are spent properly and with the necessary urgency and what have they been doing these past 18 months?*

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