Panelo: Enough government funds for Taal eruption, OFW repatriation
MANILA, Philippines — The government has enough funds to cover the expenses for the evacuation of those affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano, pegged by the Office of Civil Defense at 37,000 people so far, Malacañang said yesterday.
“With respect to the Middle East, since there has been de-escalation of the conflict there, I suppose that is the reason why the President did not pursue his request or call for Congress to special session. Now, vis-a-vis the present eruption, I understand we have enough funds for that,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
President Duterte has at his disposal about P16 billion in contingency funds under the 2020 national budget, to be used for response and recovery efforts during disasters.
Panelo said the government can still attend to the needs of the Taal evacuees as well as the repatriation efforts for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stranded in Iran and the Middle East.
The Philippine government sent two Navy ships yesterday to fetch repatriated OFWs affected by the tension in the Middle East.
With funds still available, Panelo said the President does not need any standby authority from Congress for supplemental budget.
Congress cut NDRMF
With P4 billion less in the government’s calamity fund, lawmakers are left with the challenge to source more funds to effectively address the calamity brought by the Taal Volcano eruption.
President Duterte had approved the budget cut made by Congress in the appropriation for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) in the 2020 national budget that he signed last week.
Based on the report of the bicameral conference committee, which reflected the General Appropriations Act signed by the Chief Executive, the NDRRMF was given only P16 billion for this year.
The bicam report, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR, showed a decrease in the calamity fund by P4 billion, both from the previous year and from the proposed budget by the executive branch of P20 billion.
Duterte effectively conceded to the decision of Congress to cut the budget, meant for relief, relocation and rehabilitation operations during calamities like the ongoing eruption of Taal Volcano, in signing the budget last Jan. 6.
The President did not veto any item in the P4.1-trillion budget submitted by Congress.
House leaders confirmed this budget cut, but gave assurance that there would be funds to effectively respond to calamities that could possibly happen throughout the year.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano explained that the P3.3 billion from the NDRRMF could be used for aid and relief and rehabilitation services to communities affected by the eruption, while another P4.2 billion for repair and reconstruction of permanent structures, including capital expenditures.
But he admitted that not the entire P16-billion fund could be utilized for the Taal calamity alone as it is intended for all calamities nationwide for the entire year.
Cayetano bared that the NDRRMF includes an allocation of P3.5 billion for the Marawi recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction program, and another P5 billion for comprehensive aid to repair earthquake damage in the Davao and Soccskargen regions.
This means half of the NDRRMF is specifically allocated to Mindanao for previous calamities, and only P7.5 billion can actually be used for calamities this year, including the ongoing Taal Volcano eruption. – With Edu Punay