Duterte will ‘sell government properties’ if necessary in fight against COVID-19

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a meeting with members of the inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), Malacanang Palace, Manila, April 8, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 09 April 2020

Duterte will ‘sell government properties’ if necessary in fight against COVID-19

  • Duterte said that the government is looking for additional sources of funds, admitting that the allotted P270 billion emergency subsidy was not enough
  • The president recently signed the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act as part of his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought the country to a standstill

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will sell government property as a last resort to keep the country afloat as it grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duterte raised the idea during a televised meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) in Malacañang in the early hours of Thursday.

“What is the end game? If we run out of money, I will sell the properties of the government — the Cultural Center (of the Philippines), PICC (Philippine International Convention Center), the land there,” Duterte said. “If I can’t find anything more and we are about to sink —really sink — I will sell all the assets of the government to help the people…  I will give it to you. Do not worry about the money.”

On Monday, based on the recommendations of the IATF, the president approved the extension of the Luzon-wide lockdown until April 30 as COVID-19 infections in the country continue to soar.

As of Thursday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 206 more confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 4,076.

The DOH also reported 28 recoveries, which brings the number of people in the Philippines who have recovered from the disease to 124. The death toll is now 203.

The president recently signed the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act as part of his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought the country to a standstill.

However, he said that the government is looking for additional sources of funds, admitting that the allotted P270 billion emergency subsidy was not enough.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that COVID-19 has hit the country “in a very hard way” and that an estimated 1.2 million workers face temporary unemployment as a result of the lockdown. He added that zero or negative economic growth is predicted in 2020, while the budget deficit will likely widen from 3.2 percent to 5.3 percent, because the government will be spending more than it will be collecting.

“But we are spending more in order to save the people and make sure that they have food on the table during this time,” Dominguez said. “So we are also coming up with a program to continuously borrow more money to support the Philippine economy and our fight against (COVID-19).”

Dominguez said the government is looking to borrow from the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.

“We probably will be borrowing around 5.6 billion US dollars from them,” he said. “If that is still not enough, we will go to the commercial market.”

Meanwhile, some senators welcomed the possibility of disposing of government properties in support of the country’s response to the socio-economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said, “This is a time for the survival of our people and the whole country as well, and the president must (consider) anything — even the most extraordinary measure — to save us all.”

Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon agreed, saying that the COVID-19 crisis should be an “opportunity to better utilize (government) assets.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he doubts it will reach the point where the government will have to sell its assets to raise funds. Sotto said he believes the president “is merely giving us the assurance that he will do whatever it takes to fund the health and recovery of the entire country.”

Duterte warned that the problem of COVID-19 could last for two years and said there would be severe consequences if this happens.

He stressed that the development of a vaccine for the virus is the only solution, saying, “No vaccine? COVID stays.”


Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 52 min 50 sec ago

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants affiliated with the Daesh group stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan in a daylong siege that left at least 39 people dead, including the assailants, and freed nearly 400 of their fighters before security forces restored order, a government official said Monday.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.

The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.

The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.

Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.

They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.

According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.

The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.

“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.

The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.

In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”

After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.

The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.

The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.

Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.

“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”

“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”