Duterte open to dropping infrastructure projects for more COVID-19 funding
President Rodrigo Duterte is open to dropping infrastructure projects scheduled this year to free up funds for COVID-19 response, his spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.
The government plans to spend over ₱1 trillion this year on various construction projects, in keeping with the administration's promise to usher in a "Golden Age of Infrastructure" and fill the country's needs for longer and wider roads, convenient train systems, and bigger airports and seaports, to name a few.
But that plan may now be shelved with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the local and global economy.
"Ang mensahe ng Presidente, gagamitin natin ang pondo ng taumbayan. Kung kinakailangan, sabi nga po ng Presidente noong Tuesday, ititigil niya ang lahat ng infrastructure projects kung kinakailangang gastusin ang pondo ng bayan para magkaroon ng pagkain at iba pang pangangailangan ang ating mga kababayan," Roque told reporters on Thursday.
[Translation: The President said we will use taxpayers' money. As the President said last Tuesday, he will stop all infrastructure projects if we need to spend the public funds to provide food and other essentials to our fellow Filipinos.]
This is contrary to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III's previous remarks that the "Build, Build, Build" program — which includes 100 big-ticket priority projects — will not be downgraded even with the rampaging coronavirus, as it is being counted on as the "fuel" for the local economy to bounce back from this year's slump.
The Transportation Department earlier offered to realign some ₱11 billion from projects under its watch to give way to coronavirus aid.
The government has earmarked about ₱200 billion for two-month cash subsidies for 18 million poor households, hoping it would tide them over while the Luzon lockdown keeps them away from their jobs. Other forms of cash aid have also been extended to displaced laborers, overseas workers, and small businesses.
The Finance Department laid out a ₱1.17-trillion response plan made up of a mix of cash and non-cash measures meant to soften the economic impact of COVID-19. Bulk of this will be sourced from loans — specifically, $5.7 billion will be borrowed from foreign lenders as emergency money.
Apart from this, Duterte also ordered to sell government assets to generate more cash, mentioning the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine International Convention Center in particular.
These two spaces usually host art exhibitions and large conferences, graduation rites and other events. The PICC's forum halls are currently being used as a quarantine facility for suspected COVID-19 patients.
Roque added that Duterte is also looking at generating resources by selling the prized pieces of jewelry seized from the family of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos to recover portions of the money he stole from the state when he was in power. He clarified that even before the pandemic hit, that was already being studied by the state.
Roque also thumbed down Senator Imee Marcos' call for the Philippines to halt debt payments for now to have more cash to spend for COVID-19 relief, saying such a move would do more harm than good to the economy.