P23B unused Bayanihan 2 funds eyed for ECQ cash aid

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    LOW-income earners adversely affected by the weeklong enhanced community quarantine imposed Monday until Easter Sunday in areas covered by the NCR Plus bubble are likely to get another round of cash assistance from the government, Sen. Christopher Go said yesterday.

    Go, a long-time assistant of President Duterte, said the government can tap a P23 billion allocation in the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2), which remains unutilized until now, for a third Special Amelioration Program (SAP) aid to some 22.9 million residents of Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.

    Speaking at the Laging Handa media briefing, Go said the P23 billion would come from the P155.6 billion allocated under the Bayanihan 2 to support programs to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Of this amount, Go said P122 billion has already been used by the government, while P10 billion has been earmarked for the Government Financial Institution Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE), leaving the P23 billion available for the SAP.

    In the same briefing, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said the budget is readily available. He assured that once the recommendation for social amelioration assistance is signed by President Duterte, the Department of Budget and Management is ready to immediately release the Special Allotment Release Order.

    “It is for the President to make a decision on the matter. Options were made available to him to choose from. Just wait until we get official announcement from the President. We will just issue it to the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr), and the BTr will transfer the funds to the accounts of the local government units,” Avisado said.

    “We are guided by the data given to us by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and based on the latest population statistics from NEDA, there are an estimated 22.9 million beneficiaries which correspond to the 80 percent low-income population in the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna, and these are the areas placed under ECQ,” he added.

    Avisado said the financial support will be a one-time assistance.

    Asked if it will be enough to support those who were affected by the ECQ, Avisado said: “I don’t think the assistance to be given will be spent (by the beneficiaries) within one week. We surmise that something more’s gonna happen after one week, so based on our projection this will tide them up at least until the time the government, (with) the approval of the President, makes adjustments in the current state of quarantine in the country.”

    But Go said economic managers have recommended that the assistance be given in kind instead of cash. He also said that the economic team is still discussing if the assistance will be per household or per individual.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the amount to be given will likely be much lesser than the P8,000 distributed last year when Luzon and other high-risk regions were placed on strict lockdown.

    “The assistance that will be given will only be equivalent to one week of work, effectively for two days of work.  Because traditionally, work is only on Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday.  But let’s say that we also include (Holy) Wednesday since we will also include our daily wage earners.  Normally, we do not have work on (Maundy) Thursday and (Good) Friday),” Roque said.

    Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said it is better if the government hands cash assistance to the affected individuals. “It’s easier and more practical to give in cash,” Recto said.

    Sen. Joel Villanueva said government should “let the people decide how to spend the money based on what they need.” – With Angela Celis