Duterte Tasks Officials with Funding Coronavirus Fight: ‘You Can Steal, I Don’t Care’

Philippines' Duterte calls UN rights chief 'empty-headed'
AFP/TED ALJIBE

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the country is running out of money to provide aid to people amid the Chinese coronavirus crisis.

In a nationally broadcast speech on Monday night, Duterte urged the government to find solutions.

“The PHP 100 billion [$1.94 billion] for one month or the PHP 270 billion [$5.329 billion] for two months earlier estimated for this is not enough. I’m calling on the Secretary of Finance to generate [funding],” Duterte said.

“You can steal, you can borrow, I don’t care. Just produce money,” the president added.

Duterte had secured $5.329 billion in funding through a special “emergency powers” bill approved by the Philippine Congress on March 24. The bill was designed to give the government more power to halt the spread of the Chinese coronavirus in the Philippines.

The funding was meant to be distributed, in part, as cash aid to poor Filipino families who have lost their jobs during a lockdown of Luzon, the Philippines’ main island, where Manila is located. The “enhanced community quarantine” began on March 16 and has closed most businesses on the island, home to 48.5 million people.

On Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced that Luzon’s lockdown would be extended to at least April 30. It had originally been expected to last until April 12.

“We are finding ways to adjust the budget … We will prioritize the people, the stomach. If they have nothing to eat, a human being can become violent,” the president said in his speech on Monday. “Don’t test the government because even the government is getting desperate. I am also desperate.”

On April 1, a group of Quezon City residents demanded government aid through a staged rally. Some in the group claimed they were hungry and protesting that a shipment of government aid had been delayed during the lockdown. Quezon City is located northeast of Manila, the capital.

Police accused the leftist group Kadamay of instigating the protesters and spreading false information. The president accused the group of attempting to stir public sentiment against the government. Police dispersed the protesters for violating the area’s quarantine, arresting at least 21 people.

In his speech on Monday night, Duterte appealed to wealthier Filipinos to consider extending financial assistance to the poor. He also proposed the possibility of allowing the reclamation of Manila Bay in exchange for food aid.

Duterte’s appeal to the Philippines’ wealthy business class contradicts his previous attitude toward the country’s elite. The president previously called for “crazy rich people” to be “killed” after disputes with private businessmen over water concession agreements.

“There are rich people in the Philippines who are crazy. They are the ones we should kill,” Duterte said in a speech in January.

“Perhaps you don’t fully understand this, but the Philippines has been fooled by the rich people in the Philippines … They are all thieves, those sons of bitches,” he added.

Of the Manila Bay reclamation, Duterte said in February, “I will not allow massive reclamation for the private sector.”

Private developers had proposed reclaiming large amounts of land along Manila Bay amid a recent property boom in the Philippines. However, Duterte said he would not allow private sector-initiated “massive reclamation” projects in the bay area because they would be environmentally destructive and “choke” Manila. Instead, the president said at the time that reclamation would be limited to government projects and those approved by the Philippine Reclamation Authority.

At press time on Tuesday, the Philippines had recorded 3,765 infections and 177 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.

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