Senate, House agree on P162B funding for Bayanihan 2 bill

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    THE bicameral conference committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives has agreed to allocate P162 billion to fund the government’s strategic fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) under the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or Bayanihan 2.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon yesterday said senators have agreed to adopt the House’s P162 billion budget during the bicameral group’s first meeting last Friday.

    The joint Senate-House panel is set to meet again today, Monday.

    “Nagkasundo ang dalawang panig na siguro aabot tayo sa P162 billion. Payag ang Senado diyan (Both houses agreed that the Bayanihan 2 proposed budget may reach P162 billion.

    The Senate agreed with that),” Drilon said.

    The Senate version of the measure proposes a P140 billion for the government’s response measures for this year, while the House has a P162 billion proposed budget. The Department of Finance has said it could only juggle up to P140 billion in stimulus funds.

    Drilon said the proposed P162 billion allocation will be distributed as follows:P10 billion for COVID-19 testing, P15 billion for cash-for-work programs, P17 billion in cash subsidy to employees in small businesses, P50 billion for loan programs of the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines, P17 billion for the agriculture sector, P10 billion assistance for the tourism sector, P3 billion for state universities and colleges, and P10 billion for the transportation sector.

    Drilon said also included in the funding are the following: P15,000 cash aid for healthcare workers who would contract mild to moderate COVID-19; P100,000 for health care workers who would contract severe cases of the disease; P1 million to the families of healthcare workers who will die due to the virus; P5,000 to P8,000 in emergency cash aid under the Special Amelioration Program for low-income earners, cash provision for teachers from private learning institutions, and cash assistance for displaced workers.

    Drilon said lawmakers have yet to discuss who and how many individuals will be covered by the third tranche of the SAP.

    The bicameral group has also adopted the proposal to suspend for three years the stringent requirement for the submission of permits for the installation of cellular sites of telecommunications companies, which lawmakers agreed hampered fast and reliable internet services in the country.

    The bicam also approved to grant a 60-day grace period for commercial loans.

    Drilon said the P162 billion funding can be sourced from the realignments of government projects which have not yet started.

    He said bicameral members are likewise looking into how government can collect the more than P50 billion in unpaid taxes of Philippine Offshore Gaming Corporations (POGOs).

    During a hearing conducted by the Senate committee on labor last February, BIR commissioner Sixto Dy said the agency has a P50 billion collectible in unpaid franchise taxes from POGO licensees and operators. “We need to collect these huge amounts of money to finance these crucial programs. It can bridge the funding gap because we have no choice but increase the spending for COVID-19,” Drilon said.