THE Senate yesterday passed on third and final reading Senate Bill 1564 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) to allow the government to continue its COVID-19 response measures and help affected sectors in recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said 22 senators voted in favor of the measure, with only Sen. Francis Pangilinan voting against it.
In his explanation of a “no” vote, Pangilinan said he cannot allow additional funds to be allotted to the government’s response against COVID-19 with an incompetent official running the campaign, more so that the number of infections continue to rise.
“We vote ‘no’ to additional funding specified in the Bayanihan 2 because we believe that Sec. Duque ought to be fired before billions more are allowed to be released to the DOH (Department of Health). We must hold him, the country’s top health official and chairperson of the IATF, to account for the continuing spread of the disease among Filipinos,” Pangilinan said.
“Numbers do not lie, Mr. President. All indicators point to dismal, mediocre performance,” he added.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, the bill’s author and sponsor, said the Bayanihan 2 will effectively extend the validity of the government’s COVID-19 programs and interventions under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which lapsed last June 5..
“With Bayanihan 2, the government would be assured of sufficient funding for the ramped up testing for COVID-19 and for contact tracing. It will also ensure that our valiant health workers who contract or succumb to the disease will continuously receive financial support,” Angara said.
“The new law will also allow the government to continue providing assistance to Filipino businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic, including our OFWs who were either repatriated or whose deployments were suspended,” he added.
During his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte asked Congress to support the passage of the Bayanihan 2 to “supplement funds for recovery and response against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Angara said a total of P140 billion will be appropriated to fund the provisions of the law, a figure which was reached after long consultations with the economic managers.
For the procurement of PCR testing and extraction kits and corresponding supplies including enhancement of DOH capacities in programs involving elimination and control of other diseases, the amount of P10 billion will be appropriated.
A total of P15 billion will go to the cash-for-work program and the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers or TUPAD of the Department of Labor and Employment.
The amount of P17 billion will be provided as unemployment or involuntary separation assistance to help displaced workers, including probationary, project, seasonal, contractual and casual employees in private health institutions, tourism, culture and arts, creative industries, construction, public transportation, trade industries, and other sectors of the economy as may be identified by the DOLE.
Also included in this benefit package are the freelancers, self-employed and repatriated OFWs, including OFWs whose deployment were suspended due to a government-imposed deployment ban.
A total of P50 billion will go to government financial institutions Land Bank of the Philippines (P30 billion), Development Bank of the Philippines (P15 billion), and the Philippine Guarantee Corporation (P5 billion) as capital infusion for the grant of low-interest loans to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME).
For the agriculture sector, P17 billion will go to the Plant, Plant, Plant program, including cash subsidies and interest-free loans under the Agricultural Credit Policy Council and GFIs.
To assist the affected members of the transport sector, a total of P17 billion will go to the Department of Transportation for the provision of interest rate subsidies and the provision of temporary livelihood to displaced workers.
The tourism industry, which was among the hardest hit by the pandemic, will get P10 billion through the Department of Tourism for assistance to the critically-impacted businesses.
For education, P3 billion will be provided as assistance to the state universities and colleges for the development of smart campuses to implement the flexible learning modality.
The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will also get P1 billion as additional scholarship funds for its training for work scholarship program and special training for employment program for the retooling, retraining and upskilling of displaced workers, including the returning OFWs.
Bayanihan 2 will also pave the way for the continuation of programs under Bayanihan 1 such as the provision of emergency subsidies for areas placed under enhanced community quarantine, the swift procurement of essential equipment such as: medical supplies and equipment to be used for COVID-19, goods and services for social amelioration measures, construction of temporary medical facilities, and other critical services for distribution centers and temporary medical facilities; the utilization by LGUs of more than five percent of the amount allocated for their calamity fund, the grant of grace period for the payment of loans and residential rents and the engagement of temporary human resources for health.
Senate President Vicente Sotto named Angara and Senators Pia Cayetano, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ralph Recto, Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, and Franklin Drilon to comprise the Senate panel in the bicameral conference committee.
The House leadership committed to Duterte the passage of the Bayanihan 2 and promised to work on other priority measures he mentioned in his SONA, including the one seeking to revive the death penalty law.
“Despite the uncertain times brought by the global pandemic, we will ensure that the administration’s priority bills will be realized with efficiency,” said majority leader Martin Romualdez.
Duterte, in his speech, called on Congress to expedite the passage of several key measures including the Bayanihan To Heal as One Act II, the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives
Enterprises Act (CREATE), the National Housing Development bill, and the Rental Housing Subsidy bill.
Deputy speaker for finance Luis Raymund Villafuerte, who is the lead proponent in the bigger legislative chamber of House Bill (HB) 6593 or Bayanihan 2 and author of its precursor, Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, said Congress needs to arm the President anew with special powers for his government to best deal with the pandemic.
Yesterday, the Defeat COVID committee co-chaired by Romualdez and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano approved a measure seeking to provide government financial institutions unified incentives to distressed enterprises (GUIDE) for economic recovery or the GUIDE Act.
The measure seeks to extend help to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well and select industries to encourage their continued operations and maintain employment.
The House has already passed on third and final reading some of the measures mentioned by the President on Monday such as the CREATE, and the bill creating the Department of Overseas Filipinos while other measures are either being deliberated at the committees or at the plenary. – With Wendell Vigilia