Finance chief says PH economy to remain strong amid nCoV threat, other challenges

Robie de Guzman   •   February 6, 2020   •   983

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) has expressed confidence that the challenges posed by the global spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the eruption of Taal Volcano and the cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) are not enough to drag the country’s economic growth below the government’s target.

In a joint hearing conducted by the Senate committees on health and finance on Tuesday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the administration’s economic teams stands by its target of attaining a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6.5 % to 7.5% this year even amid the headwinds from 2019-nCoV and other challenges.

“At this moment, it is reasonable to expect that while these developments might slightly restrain our economic expansion, these threats are not enough to force a dramatic reduction in our growth estimates,” Dominguez said.

While the hearing was called to study ways of mitigating the impact of the nCoV outbreak on the economy, Dominguez said this development should be assessed together with the effects of the recent Taal Volcano eruption and the ASF outbreak to determine whether these require revisiting economic growth targets this year.

“While these developments may dampen our growth somewhat, domestic tourism is expected to increase as more people would likely prefer to travel within our borders, thus boosting domestic consumption,” he said.

“With our ‘Build, Build Build’ program firing on all cylinders this year, complemented by a benign inflation rate and a stable monetary policy, we expect the economy at large to sustain its momentum,” he added.

The Finance chief also stated that with the nCoV outbreak still on its early stages, it would be difficult for the economic team to estimate its potential economic costs at this time.

“We are consoled by the observation that the virus has limited local transmissions outside China,” he said.

“A significant impact on the economy will most likely be centered in the tourism sector. The travel and tourism industries around the globe are taking a hit as a result of the various levels of travel bans imposed by national governments and of voluntary decisions of airlines to cut flights to and from China,” he added.

Dominguez also said that the country may also suffer a short-term slight decline in exports, particularly in the sale of electronics and auto parts, due to a possible disruption in the global supply chain as a result of the temporary factory closures in China, which is the country’s top trading partner.

“Incidentally, our top imports from China such as steel, machinery and petroleum are products that do not seem to carry the nCoV virus, though we will continue to take all necessary precautions,” he said.

To address the possible temporary decline in the exports of electronics and auto parts, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has committed to work closely with affected Chinese and China-based companies, which will be looking to strengthen their operations by adding a production site outside of China, Dominguez said.

Dominguez added that what happened during the previous outbreaks of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), H1N1, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERSCoV) might give authorities a glimpse of how the nCoV could impact the economy.

As for the ASF outbreak, Dominguez noted that the government has been successful in intercepting contaminated pork imported from other countries through the Bureau of Customs’ anti-smuggling campaign and the Bureau of Animal Industry’s meat inspection efforts.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has also been strictly enforcing biosecurity measures and setting up more quarantine checkpoints, as well as providing more disinfection facilities to manage, contain, and control the spread of the ASF, he said.

As for the impact of the latest Taal Volcano eruption, the Finance chief said that an explosive eruption could still happen, and “unless and until this actually happens, we can only speculate on the full impact of this episode on the economy.”

As of January 20, estimates from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) show that the total foregone income in the economic sectors owing to the eruption could reach P6.66 billion pesos or 0.26 percent of the 2018 gross regional domestic product of the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) corridor.

“The bulk of the foregone income comes from agriculture and fisheries sector, services, and industry,” Dominguez said. “Short of a major eruption, the damage to our crops and the challenges of dislocated communities to which the government will continue to respond, will not significantly impact our overall growth projections.”

He said the DA and the concerned local government units are expediting the release of production support, agri-fishery aid and livelihood assistance, and cash or zero-interest loan assistance programs to the affected farmers and fisherfolk, as well as the implementation of the recovery and rehabilitation plans for the affected areas.

DOF assures enough funds for procuring vaccine supply

Aileen Cerrudo   •   June 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Finance (DOF) on Tuesday (June 15) assured that the national government has enough budget to procure coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses.

During the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the COVID-19 vaccination drive, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the government’s P88.6 billion budget is enough to vaccinate 70 million adult Filipinos. This, he said, will cover 149 million vaccine doses.

Dominguez also said that the government will be able to obtain 200 million doses if the private sector will also procure around 25 million doses to be added to the 30 million doses that “are currently in the pipeline for negotiations”.

When asked about the price range for the procurement of vaccines, Dominguez replied it ranges from P323.75 – P1,323.30 per dose. He, however, did not disclose which brands, saying it would violate the non-disclosure agreements with vaccine manufacturers.

Senator Franklin Drilon stated the need for the Senate as well as the public to know the price range of the procured COVID-19 vaccines.

“To be clear, wala po akong sinasabing may nagnakaw. Maliwanag po iyan. Tinatanong ko lang kung magkano ba dahilan sa ito’y obligasyon natin bilang mga senador, obligasyon natin kung paano natin ginagastos ang kanilang pera,” he said.

(To be clear, I was not saying there is corruption. It is clear. What I am asking is how much were the doses since this is our obligation as Senators. It is our obligation to know how we spend public funds.)

“This is a public forum, we cannot disclose publicly. Now if COA [Commission on Audit] wants to audit us, it is open for audit. I personally designed the financing of this involving ADB [Asian Development Bank], AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank], and involving World Bank as a double-check. Because they will not pay for that if they see that we are overpaying,” Dominguez said.

The government is also reviewing to have an additional P20 billion to procure doses for the vaccination of children ages 12 to 15 years old. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said it already released over P660 billion funds for the government COVID-19 response.

Meanwhile, the first batch of vaccine supply for the private sector will arrive on June 17.

Vaccine Czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. also said that private companies will give excess doses to the local government.

“Most of the private sector indicated to me that they will donate it to the LGU. considering that when we procured the vaccine the intention of the private sector is really to help the government in producing the dosage,” he said. -AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

We have enough money to vaccinate entire adult population — Finance chief

Maris Federez   •   June 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is confident that the country has sufficient funds to have the entire adult population of around 70 million and the teenage population of around 15 million, vaccinated.

In his report to President Rodrigo Duterte on Talk to the Nation, Monday night, Dominguez said that Congress has authorized the government to spend P85 billion for the vaccines.

Funding for this will be coming primarily from the budget of the Department of Health in the amount of P2.5-B and the Bayanihan 2 amounting to P10-B billion as part of the General Appropriations Act.

Dominguez added that the department was able to borrow a total of P58.5 billion from Official Development Assistance financing firms such as the World Bank (P23.9-B), Asian Development Bank (P20.3-B), and the Asian Infrastructure [Investment] Bank (P14.3-B).

The Finance chief also said that they are sourcing up to P11.5-B and contingency funds of another P2.5-B.

“But the total so far is we have 85 billion. Now, the money is there so we have enough to buy… With P85-B, we can buy 140 billion — ah 140 million doses of vaccines. Now 140 million doses of vaccines can inoculate — can vaccinate 70 million Filipinos. Now 70 million Filipinos are the entire adult population. So we have enough money to vaccinate the entire adult population,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez also assured that once the Department of Health and the inter-agency COVID-19 task force (IATF) include the country’s teen population of around 15 million in the vaccination program, there will be enough funds to cover it.

“Now, if we have to vaccinate children from 12 to 15… I don’t know if that’s authorized already — from 12 to 15? […] We estimate that will cost another P20 billion but we have enough reserves to cover that amount of money. So we have enough,” he added.

Dominguez stressed that the government’s fund is sufficient for the vaccination program.

“Tamang-tama, sapat po ‘yong ano, ‘yong pera natin para sa vaccination. So we don’t have to worry. The money is there and we will certainly be able to vaccinate the entire adult population plus the teenagers who are I think around 15 million, right? Around 15 million Filipinos. So total 85 million Filipinos,” Dominguez assured. —/mbmf

DOF orders tighter watch on rice imports following tariff cuts

Robie de Guzman   •   June 7, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Monday ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to keep a tighter watch on incoming rice imports to ensure the proper collection of taxes following the implementation of tariff rate cuts.

In a statement, the DOF said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III issued the directive pursuant to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 135, which mandates the temporary adjustment of tariff rates on rice imports to offset the effect on consumers of the continuous increase in the price of rice from other countries, particularly those coming from ASEAN countries, and thereby reduce inflationary pressures.

The DOF said the EO 135 would enable the country to diversify its market sources for rice and maintain the stable supply and affordable price of the cereal for Filipino consumers.

Dominguez cited India as a possible source of cheap rice imports.

“I think there will be a shift in the imports of Thai and Vietnamese rice, and Burmese (Myanmar) rice, to rice from other countries where the value is much lower. Just keep an eye on that,” Dominguez told Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero during a recent executive committee meeting.

During the meeting, Guerrero said the BOC is currently reviewing the valuation of rice shipments from Vietnam, noting that most of the imports from there were “declared with values lower than the published prevailing prices for such exports from that country.”

“We discovered that many of these importations are under a tentative assessment so we are reviewing the payments,” Guerrero said.

He said the average value of rice imports, coming mostly from Vietnam, dropped 12.7 percent to P19,312 per metric ton (MT) in May 2021, compared to P22,119 per MT in the same month last year.

The average value of rice in May was also lower than the P21,066 per MT recorded in April and P22,119 per MT in March.

Guerrero previously reported increasing tariff collections despite lower import volumes because of a steady improvement in the BOC’s valuation system.

Preliminary data showed that from January 1 to April 30, a total of 804,360MT of rice shipments worth P17 billion entered the country, representing a 9.2-percent decline from the 885,645MT valued at P16.4 billion that were imported during the same period last year.

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