Philippines, World Bank ink $100-M loan accord for COVID-19 emergency response project

Robie de Guzman   •   April 29, 2020   •   441

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Tuesday announced that the Philippines has signed a $100-million loan agreement with the World Bank to strengthen the country’s COVID-19 emergency response project (ERP).

In a statement, the DOF said that the loan deal was signed by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and World Bank acting country director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand Achim Fock on April 28.

The DOF said the loan accord aims to strengthen the country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and boost its national systems for public health preparedness.

The $100-million loan deal follows an earlier agreement signed by Dominguez and Fock for the $500-million Third Disaster Risk Management Development Policy Loan (DRM DPL3) that aims to augment the Philippine government’s urgent financing requirements in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The World Bank has again acted swiftly to help developing economies like the Philippines meet the ever-increasing demand for medical care and health facilities resulting from the coronavirus-induced global health crisis. We thank the World Bank once again for supporting our efforts to contain the spread of the virus and expand our capacity to prevent and prepare for emerging infectious diseases in the future,” Dominguez said.

In approving the COVID-19 ERP loan, Fock said “boosting the [Philippines’] capacity to respond to COVID-19 will save lives.”

“The government has taken quick and decisive action in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the World Bank is proud to support its efforts. Right now, no other investment offers greater return,” Mr. Fock added.

According to the DOF, the COVID-19 ERP consists of the following components:

  • Strengthening the country’s emergency COVID-19 health care response efforts;
  • Strengthening laboratory capacity at the national and sub-national levels to support the prevention of, preparedness against, and response to, emerging infectious diseases;
  • Implementation management and monitoring and evaluation; and
  • Contingent emergency response.

The COVID-19 ERP, to be implemented by the Department of Health (DOH), will support the Philippine government’s efforts in the procurement of medical and laboratory equipment and reagents; medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPEs), medicines and ambulances; and isolation and quarantine facilities.

The World Bank may also provide proactive assistance in accessing existing supply chains through its Bank-Facilitated Procurement (BFP) to assist the DOH in implementing the project, “which will be beneficial considering the current disruptions in the usual supply chains for medical consumables and equipment for COVID-19 response,” the DOF said.

An earlier statement issued by the World Bank said the COVID-19 ERP loan also aims to expand the Philippines’ laboratory capacity by, among others, retrofitting the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) along with six sub-national and public health laboratories in Baguio, Cebu, Davao, Surigao City, and Manila; and finance the construction and expansion of laboratory capacity in priority regions that currently do not have these facilities.

The department also said that this project loan will likewise support the efforts of the DOH in coming up with design standards for hospital isolation and treatment centers in managing patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Infections (SARI), which will be used in health facilities across the country to ensure the consistency of quality and standards in delivering COVID-19 healthcare services.

The loan carries a maturity period of 29 years, inclusive of a 10-and-a-half-year grace period.

It will be fully financed by the World Bank with no counterpart funding needed from the Philippine government.

The DOF expects the effectiveness of the ERP loan and the project implementation to commence in early May.

Economic, infra clusters to hold pre-2020 SONA forum this week

Robie de Guzman   •   July 6, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte government’s economic development and infrastructure Cabinet clusters are set to present the administration’s plans for recovery and resilience in the face of the coronavirus-induced headwinds this year at the first pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum to be held this week.

The Department of Finance (DOF) said that the forum titled, “Regaining Momentum, Accelerating Recovery in a Post COVID-19 World,” will be held virtually on July 8.

Hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office and Office of the Cabinet Secretary, the forum will be streamed live on the Facebook pages of the Radio Television Malacañang, and other government agencies.

Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II said this year’s pre-SONA forum will be different as the audience will be “purely virtual,” due to limitations on mass gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do hope that our citizens will be able to tune in as the country’s top decision makers discuss our path to a quick and strong recovery from this crisis,” he said.

In the forum, the DOF said that top economic and infrastructure officials are also expected to report on the state of the Philippine economy, as well as the government’s ongoing efforts to leverage on its strong fundamentals in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar will present performance updates and priority plans, respectively, on the economic and infrastructure fronts.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua will speak on the Philippine Economic Recovery Program.

“The audience can expect Secretary Dominguez to delve deeper into the challenges we’re facing right now, the accomplishments in the previous year that we can build on, and the legislative proposals that the economic team submitted for Congress to consider,” Lambino said.

Meanwhile, updates on the monetary, external, and financial sectors will be discussed by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno.

Pre-SONA forums are held annually to discuss in greater detail the achievements of the government in the previous year and the priorities of the Cabinet cluster heads in the run-up to the President’s SONA on July 27.

DOF: P244-M worth of smuggled PPEs, medical supplies seized by Customs from March to May

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has confiscated P244-million worth of smuggled, unregistered or counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies from March 25 to May 31, 2020, the Department of Finance (DOF) said on Friday.

In a statement, the DOF said the seizure is part of the BOC’s efforts to stop the illegal importation, storage and hoarding of goods deemed essential to the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a report to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the BOC said that while it has released various regulations to facilitate and speed up the process of importing PPEs and other medical supplies, some unscrupulous traders have taken advantage of the coronavirus-induced crisis to smuggle such items into the country.

In his report, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said he has issued 10 Letters of Authority covering the inspection of persons and premises suspected of selling or storing smuggled and/or unregistered medicines and equipment from March 25 to May 31 this year.

“Moreover, profiling/targeting of imported shipments suspected to contain contraband and other smuggled articles were intensified. As a result a total of P244.4 million-worth of smuggled/counterfeit/unregistered PPE and medicines were seized by the Bureau,” Guerrero added.

Last May 1, various PPEs, and P70-million worth of Chinese medicines that supposedly cure COVID-19 were seized by the BOC in a warehouse in Singalong, Manila.

Guerrero said in his report that the medicines, which were contained in about 360 boxes, were not registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The BOC chief also said that they have seized other medical supplies in various operations including the following:

  • P5 million worth of masks, gloves, goggles, alcohol, thermal scanners, test tubes and syringes under the name of Philmed Dynasty Supplies Corp. based in Binondo, Manila;
  • An estimated P30 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, and googles under the name of ELJ1 Medical Shop based in Sta. Cruz, Manila; and
  • An estimated P9 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, goggles from the Medical Outlet based in Rizal Avenue, Manila.
  • An estimated P80 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, goggles, medicines, and foodstuffs from an establishment located at HK Sun Plaza, Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City.
  • An estimated P400,000-worth of various medical supplies and medicines from Ton Ren Tang Chinese Medication, Binondo, Manila.
  • An estimated P50 million-worth of various medical equipment and supplies from Omnibus Biomedical Systems.

“The cases involving these smuggled or unregistered products are now the subject of forfeiture proceedings by the BOC before the law division of the Manila International Container Port (MICP),” Guerrero said.

Aside from these items, the BOC also reported that it seized 2.2 kilograms of imported Chinese medicines without FDA clearance last April 27, and has initiated the filing of appropriate charges against their importers and consignees.

Another five boxes of Chinese medicines containing 48,000 medicinal tablets and bundled with 238 master cases of assorted imported cigarettes; 4 drums of toluene-2.4 diisocyanate; 2 drums of propylene glycol; 2 drums of glycerol-propoxylate-block-ethoxylate; 2 drums of vacuum pump oil; 2 drums of paraffin oil; 2 drums of power steering fluid; 1 drum of sodium hypochlorite; and 2 drums of siloxane were confiscated from a warehouse in Valenzuela City last April 30.

Guerrero said these were seized and taken into custody by the BOC for failure of the owner to present the required import documents for these items.

Deadlines for filing of VAT refund claims extended anew, DOF says

Robie de Guzman   •   June 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) announced on Sunday that it has extended anew the deadlines for the filing of claims for value-added tax (VAT) refund.

In a statement on Sunday, the DOF said it has issued Revenue Regulations (RR) No. 16-2020, dated June 24, extending the deadline due to “preconceived difficulty for taxpayer-claimants to file VAT refund claims” as mobility remains restricted in some areas in the country amid the enforcement of quarantine measures against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The extended deadlines for filing of VAT refund claims are as follows:

  • Calendar quarter ending March 31, 2018 – July 15, 2020
  • Fiscal quarter ending April 30, 2018 – July 31, 2020
  • Fiscal quarter ending May 31, 2018 – August 15, 2020
  • Calendar quarter ending June 30, 2018 – August 31, 2020

However, the finance department clarified that these extended deadlines will not apply to areas that are not yet under general community quarantine (GCQ).

For taxpayer-claimants in areas that have yet to transition to GCQ, the DOF said that the deadline shall be 30 days from the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in the affected areas, or the above stated deadlines, whichever comes later.

In areas under ECQ or MECQ, the implementation of the 90-day period for processing VAT refund claims is suspended, the DOF said.

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