House panel okays funding sources of Bayanihan 3

The House of Representatives committee on ways and means on Monday approved the provisions of the Bayanihan 3 that pertain to revenue generation to fund stimulus and aid programs under the proposed stimulus package.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, the committee chairman, said his committee hopes to “keep the fiscal deficit” in check by coming up with funding sources for the third Bayanihan package. The measure provides for a P420-billion fund to stimulate the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Committee’s regular meeting on Monday, Salceda said the committee “bears in mind that we are now at high fiscal deficit levels.” Hence, he said, the committee has come up with provisions that will provide funding sources for the package without adding to the country’s borrowing.

Under the version approved by the committee, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) may make additional advances to the national government of up to 10 percent of average income of the national government for FYs 2018 to 2020.

Mandatory dividend remittances by state-run firms will also be increased from 50 percent to 75 percent, while the President will also have the power to withdraw capital from overcapitalized government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).

Salceda said that the committee is also working with the Department of Finance (DOF) to pass taxes on e-sabong and on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs).

Salceda added that the committee intends to pursue other revenue measures, such as closing VAT loopholes on digital companies, the fiscal regime on mining, and the Ease of Paying Taxes Act.

Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas welcomed approval by two House committees of a consolidated version of the Bayanihan 3 bill.

“With the Bayanihan 3 approved at committee level, and with the full backing of the House members, I am very optimistic, as chair of the House social services committee, that we will be able to extend to our people the economic and social support that they urgently need during this period of uncertainty,” Vargas said.

The consolidated bill was approved during a joint hearing of the Vargas committee and the committee on economic affairs Friday. It was approved by the ways and means committee on Monday and now goes to the appropriations committee.

Vargas cited several provisions in the consolidated bill which he said address the needs of affected sectors, particularly workers who have lost their jobs, and vulnerable sectors in need of government aid.

Vargas said the consolidated bill provides several types of assistance, among them, direct emergency and social amelioration of P1,000 for all Filipinos for the first month, and another P1,000 within three months.

The bill also provides livelihood assistance through an additional P12 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) program, P8 billion in wage subsidies under the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) program of the Department of Finance (DOF), P10 billion in assistance for displaced workers through the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)

The bill also suspends the collection of amortization payments for those living in government housing programs, and imposes a “no eviction or demolition policy” until the State of Public Health Emergency declared by the national government is lifted.

The Palace, meanwhile, dismissed a media report that the government has yet to spend about P25 billion in calamity funds from 2020.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that of some P22 billion in calamity funds last year, the Office of the President approved P20 billion for disbursement, leaving a balance of about P2.22 billion.

He said the amount said to be unspent was bloated.

Senator Risa Hontiveros asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a special audit on the P570 billion expenditure under the Bayanihan Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) and the Bayanihan to Recover Act (Bayanihan 2), as the country’s health system remains overwhelmed due to the effects of COVID-19.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 710, Hontiveros aired concern that the last financial report released to the public was on Jan. 4, 2021.

Hontiveros also pressed Malacanang to faithfully release the financial reports of the expenditure of Bayanihan 2 as required by the law every first Monday of the month.

Hontiveros said this is the second resolution for a special audit on COVID funds that she has filed.

The senator said it was crucial to evaluate these expenses as budget deliberations draw closer.

The audit, she said, will help in responding to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Currently, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the country has spent over P570 billion on the COVID-19 response, which Hontiveros says has yet to be felt on the ground.

“I ask my colleagues in the Senate to adopt the resolution immediately. It is our duty as legislators to exercise our power of the purse judiciously,” she said.

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