The Philippine government, through the Department of Finance (DOF), is stepping up efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic through active collaboration and partnerships with international organizations. According to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the Philippines has secured a $3 million grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Asia-Pacific Disaster Response Fund (APDRF) to strengthen the capacity of the Department of Health and other concerned agencies to diagnose and confirm COVID-19 infections.

ADB will manage the grant to include the purchase of emergency medical supplies that include personal protective equipment (PPE); increase the capacity of the Department of Health to treat mild cases through enhanced strategies (that include the building of makeshift hospitals); and improve hospital equipment.  The regional development bank will also handle the selection of contract signing with and payment of suppliers.

Additionally, the World Bank is also fast-tracking a $100 million loan to enable the DOH to procure PPEs for healthcare front liners, laboratory and testing materials and equipment, put up quarantine areas, isolation rooms and other essential facilities to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 that has infected 2,633 and killed 107 in the Philippines as of April 02, 2020 according to the DOH.

World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand Achim Fock, said their Manila office is ready with a team of specialists to assist the DOH, in quickly sourcing as much as possible the materials and equipment – some of which may not be readily available – needed in fighting the disease.

President Duterte’s economic team, led by Secretary Dominguez, earlier unveiled a package of priority actions amounting to $531.9 million (Php 27.1 billion) to help front liners in fighting the pandemic, and provide economic and social relief to the people who will be most affected by the virus-induced slowdown in economic activity.

Finance Secretary, Carlos Dominguez III, said: “We have enough, but limited resources, so our job is to make sure that we have sufficient funds for programs mitigating the adverse effects of COVID-19 on our economy.”

Elsewhere, the US government through USAID, has also committed $2.7 million to support the Philippines in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by strengthening specimen transport systems and enhancing laboratory capacity for the rapid and accurate detection of cases. Hygiene products, masks, waste management supplies and other needed items will be made available for the protection of health workers and patients. US government-supported programs will also expand the disease preparedness of communities including access to water, sanitation, hygiene services and commodities.

Among the measures crafted by President Duterte's economic team are:

·         The mobilization of an additional Php 3.1 billion ($60.8 million) to contribute directly to efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the acquisition of test kits;

·         An initial budget of Php 2 billion ($39.2 million) to be used for wage subsidy/financial support to establishments and workers affected by COVID-19;

·         Mobilization of an existing Php 1.2 billion ($23.5 million) in the Social Security System (SSS) to cover unemployment benefits for dislocated workers;

·         Php 3 billion ($58.8 million) to support affected and temporarily displaced workers through upskilling and reskilling, with free courses in the convenience of their own homes;

·         Various programs and projects amounting to Php 14 billion ($274.7 million) from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority to support tourism; 

·         Php 2.8 billion ($54.9 million) for loans at zero interest for smallholder farmers and fisherfolk affected by calamity and disasters;

·         And Php 1 billion ($19.6 million) special loan package for affected micro entrepreneurs/micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) - including  ongoing assistance with supply chain disruptions, sourcing and the conduct of trade and investment missions.

Additional support mechanisms identified also include:

·         A loan program intended for affected government employees and retirees;

·         Mobilization of funds from government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs) to assist airlines and the rest of the tourism industry;

·         Programs of the largest government banks to help address the impact of the health emergency by providing public and private institutions with low-interest loans under a simplified application procedure (including longer tenor, grace periods, etc.);

·         And the grant of temporary and rediscounting relief measures for financial institutions, as approved by the Monetary Board (MB).

President Duterte has also placed the entire island of Luzon on an enhanced community quarantine and ordered bans on mass gatherings, classes on all levels, and prescribed stringent measures to restrict non-essential movements to enforce social distancing. Government work was also suspended but with a skeletal staff assigned for government agencies, while a ban on the entry of foreigners from countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases was also imposed; with the exception of the families of Filipinos, diplomats and those with permanent resident visas.

The Philippine government will continue to aggressively pursue sustainable development measures, build major infrastructures and forge economic ties with diverse markets  through solid economic fundamentals and a strong, resolute leadership in keeping with the nation’s potential as the fastest growing economy in Asia.  

Source: Weber Shandwick