Agencies asked to explain why calamity funds unspent

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MANILA, Philippines—Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee which has oversight of the national budget, on Tuesday (May 4) said he asked agencies to report how they spent their calamity funds as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released P2.91 billion of the funds for 2020 and 2021 in April.

“We’re actually inquiring with the agencies on disbursements made and awaiting information on the unspent calamity funds,” Angara told the Inquirer.

“Calamity funds are usually expected to be spent expeditiously since they respond to emergency events, and often there is great urgency and need for these funds,” said Angara, who steered approval of the 2020 and 2021 national budgets in the Senate.

“And during the budget hearings we are often told how the year’s budget is insufficient for rehabilitation of disaster or calamity-hit communities, which is why for this year 2021, Congress added to the calamity fund,” Angara said.

From P16 billion in 2020, this year’s national disaster risk reduction management fund (NDRRMF) had been set aside a bigger P20 billion.

As earlier reported by the Inquirer, the total of P25.14 billion in the 2020 and 2021 NDRRMF had been unreleased and unspent from January to March, according to DBM data citing status report from the Department of National Defense’s Office of Civil Defense (DND-OCD) as of March 31. (link – https://www.dbm.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/e-Fund_Releases/NDRRMF2021/FY-2021-NDRRMF-as-of-March-31-2021.pdf)

In a statement, the DBM said it released P2.91 billion from the NDRRMF in April–P2.47 billion for the national disaster risk reduction and management program (NDRRMP) and P439.84 million for the Marawi recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction program (MRRRP).

The DBM statement did not indicate if the NDRRMP and the MRRRP releases came from the 2020 continuing NDRRMF appropriations or from the new 2021 funds, but a representative confirmed to the Inquirer that these latest releases were made only during the month of April.

Budget documents had shown that the NDRRMP can be spent on epidemics, as declared by the Department of Health (DOH), subject to the approval of the Office of the President (OP) upon recommendation of the inter-agency National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

As of April, the DBM said it was “processing an additional P2.78 billion [in the NDRRMF] based on recent approvals from the OP covering disaster-related programs and projects in response to calamities occurring from 2018 to 2021, as well as the MRRRP and CARED,” referring to the comprehensive aid to repair earthquake damage funds under the 2020 budget.

A total of P5 billion had been allocated for CARED to cover rehabilitation of areas in the Davao and Soccsksargen regions flattened by strong quakes in 2019.

DBM data showed that in 2020, only P311.94 million in CARED funds were released—P255.38 million to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and P56.56 million to the state-run Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).

Since the validity of the 2020 budget had been extended by President Rodrigo Duterte until end-2021, there remained P4.69 billion under CARED as of March—P4.09 billion in special allotment release orders (SAROs) were up for OP approval, of which P1.65 billion will be for the National Housing Authority (NHA), P1.4 billion for the DPWH and P1.04 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

In its statement, the DBM said P1.79 billion was “for release” for CARED as of April, leaving a balance of P2.89 billion.

In 2020, the Inquirer reported that P406.5 million in funds allotted in 2018 for the rehabilitation of Marawi City expired and reverted to the national treasury mainly because of the slow approval of the national disaster agency and the OP.

In 2020, the DBM released P3.436 billion in the continuing 2019 MRRRP out of the P3.437-billion fund.

The Inquirer asked Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) chair and Housing Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario back in January what happened to P214,004 that was unreleased and expired in the 2019 MRRRP but he did not respond.

For the 2020 MRRRP, P3.49 billion was released as of December 2020, hence just the small P8.19-million balance which can be used until yearend. Of this, P7.85 million had been earmarked after President Duterte approved the SARO for the National Youth Commission (NYC).

The DBM said the combined P19.44-billion balance in 2020 and 2021’s calamity funds “will be utilized based on the specific purposes and allotments which will be released by the DBM to appropriate departments and agencies upon receipt of the corresponding approvals from the OP.”

For pandemic response, the DBM said that the NDRRMF “will be tapped whenever there are additional funding requirements to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic which may not be covered by all available funding sources.”

“The DBM assures the public that sufficient funds are made available to departments and agencies for programs and projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.

It said agencies may use until June 30, 2021 regular appropriations for 2021, funds from the extended General Appropriations Act of 2020 and at least P189.44 billion unspent under Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

The funds are “on top” of some P60.61 billion released to the Department of Health for foreign-assisted projects, “particularly on the procurement of vaccines and other essential equipment and supplies,” the DBM said.

TSB


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