Philippines, ADB sign $200-M loan deal to augment gov’t cash aid to poor families

Robie de Guzman   •   April 30, 2020   •   685

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Thursday said the Philippines and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have signed a $200-million loan agreement to augment the funding for the government’s cash assistance program to poor and vulnerable households greatly affected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and ADB Country Director for the Philippines Kelly Bird signed the loan deal on Tuesday, April 28, the DOF said.

This is the second additional financing provided by the ADB under the Social Protection Support Project (SPSP), which supports the Government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“We thank the ADB for its swift and continuing support for the Duterte administration’s efforts to blunt the impact of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak on our people and the economy,” Dominguez said in a statement.

“This SPSP loan will help the government achieve the No. 1 priority set by President Duterte in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is to save lives and extend a lifeline to millions of poor and low-income Filipinos who lost their incomes and livelihoods following the pandemic-driven work stoppage,” he added.

The SPSP aims to provide cash grants to beneficiary-families under the 4Ps covered by the emergency subsidies under Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act.

This budget-support loan will help bridge the immediate financing requirements of the government’s response to this coronavirus crisis through the distribution via cash cards of cash grants to beneficiaries of the 4Ps.

For his part, ADB Vice President Ahmed Saeed commended the Philippine government for rolling out the emergency subsidy program aimed at helping poor and vulnerable Filipinos get through this health and economic crisis, as the pandemic curve is flattened.

“This $200 million loan to assist the government in financing COVID-19 cash grants to poor households under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) will help achieve this purpose,” he said.

The loan for the project, which carries a maturity period of 29 years inclusive of an 8-year grace period, is expected to be disbursed by June this year.

Last April 24, the ADB and the Philippines signed a loan agreement that would let the Duterte administration access up to $1.5 billion in budgetary support from the Manila-headquartered lender to augment funds for its stepped-up efforts to contain the global health crisis.

This loan for the COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) program is the largest budget support ever extended to the Philippines by the ADB, according to President Masatsugu Asakawa.

The CARES program loan is under the ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility Pandemic Response Option, which is a quick-disbursing budget-support facility to aid countries like the Philippines in mitigating the severe economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and bankrolling measures to prevent the further spread of this highly contagious virus.

President Asakawa said ADB’s financing for the CARES program loan “is part of a well-sequenced support package that will provide financial and technical advice to help the [Philippines] meet the challenges posed by a crisis that is wreaking havoc both globally and nationally.”

The ADB president has commended the Philippine government for “its strong leadership and decisive actions to halt the spread of COVID-19 and quickly implementing financial assistance packages to families and small businesses to address the economic downturn.”

The ADB was among the first multilateral development institutions to provide assistance to the Philippines’ COVID response efforts with its delivery of a $3-million grant for the government’s purchase of medical supplies for its frontline health workers.

LTO sets up guidelines for registration of e-scooters

Marje Pelayo   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has pushed governments to impose transport restrictions to curb virus transmission among commuters.

As an alternative to common modes of transportation, the public resorted to old-school bicycles and its modern counterparts — the e-scooter and e-bikes.

Such vehicles have been helpful to some especially healthcare professionals and other essential workers who are spared from facing the hassle of commuting to work on mass transportation and the risk of infection that it entails.

“Iyong convenience ng e-scooter? Never na ako nag-commute ulit ever since October 2019,” said Syd Henrie Arriesgado, an occupational therapist who goes to work on his e-scooter.

“Pupunta ako sa work, nag-i e-scooter na lang ako,” he added.

Syd is one of the many individuals who now own such a vehicle but are not covered by any transport regulation at the moment. 

This is why, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) is now drafting a guideline that will regulate the use of e-scooters by updating the provisions of Republic Act 4136 or the Act to Compile the Laws Relative to Land Transportation and Traffic Rules.

Under the existing law, any vehicle that uses oil fuel or electricity must be registered and the owner should possess a valid license.

The LTO also stressed that the use of e-scooters must be governed by a certain law since it is small in size and requires balancing which is prone to accidents.

The agency is awaiting the approval of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on the proposed guidelines.

“Una, kailangan may lisensya o rehistrado. Pangalawa, kung saan pwedeng gamitin, anong klaseng lansangan pwedeng gamitin. Pangatlo ano ang kailangang protective gear na suot nila para naman kung hindi ma-prevent ay mabawasan ang injuries,” explained LTO Chief and DOTr Undersecretary Edgar Galvante.

But an e-scooter advocate group, “Electric Kick Scooter” questioned the timing of the guideline’s release.

“I can’t really take it against LTO. Mandato ng Constitution but the thing is it’s really bad timing during this pandemic season. Ang mga frontliners ito ang ginagamit na mode of transportation,” argued Tim Vargas, the group’s chairman.

Galvante on the other hand, said, “Hindi dito iniisip ang ill-timing. Kung ang kino-consider siguro ay safety, wala ritong tamang timing.”

The LTO, however, cannot tell yet as to when the guidelines will be released, but assured the public of prompt issuance once DOTr greenlights the proposal. MNP (with reports from Joan Nano)

Bureau of Customs steps up drive vs rice smuggling

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is ramping up its campaign against rice smuggling even amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by conducting raids on warehouses suspected of storing illegally imported grains following reports from concerned citizens, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the DOF said that Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero has assured Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that rice stocks imported by private traders during the pandemic would still be subject to “post-modification and post audit.”

This system will ensure that undervalued shipments are properly assessed and subsequently paid with the correct amount of duties and taxes.

Guerrero also said he had informed the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) that because rice is considered a “critical” commodity, traders were allowed to avail of the Provisional Goods Declaration in processing their shipments at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FFF earlier questioned the BOC’s assessment and valuation system on the entry of rice imports.

“The BOC has found the valuation of several rice shipments with provisional goods declaration to be quite low compared to the prevailing market prices,” Guerrero said in his report to Dominguez.

“But those are subject to post-modification and post-audit. And in the meantime, we are still conducting the post-modification, verifying the payments of rice because some of them are clearly undervalued. So we will catch up in the post modification and post-audit,” he added.

Under Customs Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 07-2020, if the Customs district/sub-port collector accepts a provisional goods declaration, the duty and tax treatment of the goods under provisional declaration will not be different from that of goods with complete declaration.

For the release of shipments under tentative assessment, the importer will be required to post the required security, whether in the form of surety bond or cash bond.

Guerrero said the customs bureau has also responded to reports by concerned citizens regarding warehouses suspected of storing smuggled rice stocks by immediately issuing letters of authority to enable BOC officers to inspect such warehouses and seize goods without the requisite importation permits.

“We actually raided them and we found out that many of these warehouses were operating legally and their stocks are covered by proper documents,” Guerrero said.

Duterte calls for equal access to COVID-19 vaccine at UN assembly

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – In his first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Rodrigo Duterte emphasized that all countries, rich or poor, should have equal access to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine “as a matter of policy.”

In a pre-recorded video message to the UN convention that aired on Wednesday, Duterte stressed the necessity of coordinated international plans and efforts to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, which he called as the “biggest test the world and the United Nations faced since World War II.”

He also pointed out that ensuring universal access to COVID-19 technologies and products to combat COVID-19 would be “pivotal in the global pandemic recovery.”

“The world is in the race to find a safe and effective vaccine. When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” he said.

“The Philippines joins our partners in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the Non-Aligned Movement in raising our collective voice: the COVID-19 vaccine must be considered a global public good,” he added.

Duterte also welcomed the launch of UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund which is designed to aid low and middle-income countries to overcome the health and development crisis caused by the pandemic as well as support those severely affected by the economic and social disruption it caused.

“COVID-19 knows no border. It knows no nationality. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no age. It knows no creed,” he said.

“The Philippines values the role that the United Nations plays in its fight against the pandemic. As a middle-income country whose economic advances have been derailed by the pandemic, we welcome the launch of the UN COVID Response and Recovery Fund,” he added.

During his speech, Duterte also recognized the sacrifices of medical professionals and other workers who are on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic.

“We salute all frontliners who put their lives on the line even in countries not their own. So also do we honor and recognize the healthcare professionals who selflessly answered the call to combat the COVID-19 pandemic despite its virulence and unknown characteristics,” he said.

The viral respiratory disease has so far infected over 31 million people across the globe.

In the Philippines, the number of COVID-19 cases has reached 291,789 as of Tuesday. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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