Palace won’t back Velasco’s economic stimulus package

The Palace on Monday backed away from supporting a P420-billion stimulus package proposed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, saying the 2021 national budget and the Bayanihan 2 law would be enough to see the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We appreciate the policy initiatives of Speaker Velasco but our position has been consistent that there is enough fiscal stimulus in our annual budget and we will be implementing Bayanihan 2,” Roque said in a mix of Filipino and English.

“But of course, we appreciate the filing of Bayanihan 3, and if we really fall short, then we will of course resort to Bayanihan 3. But for now let’s see what will happen when we implement the 2021 budget and Bayanihan 2,” he added.

Velasco, who drafted Bayanihan 3 with Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, said Bayanihan 3 will help drive economic growth, which declined by 9.5 percent in 2020, the largest drop since 1946.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chairman of the committee of ways and means in the House, said Congress has enough time to pass economic amendments to the Constitution in time for a plebiscite that can be held alongside the 2022 elections.

It also has time to pass some of the remaining tax reform measures still pending, he added.

These include measures that affect agriculture, education, health, the social safety net, and other bills designed to speed the recovery of the economy that was battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said Charter change efforts at the House at this time were a “waste of time and energy.”

He said the apparent hesitation among many Filipinos to get inoculated against COVID-19, as reflected in opinion surveys and even admitted by key government officials, proves that the time and energy to be wasted on Charter change should be spent instead on helping the government carry out a nationwide public information drive to persuade adults to take part in the upcoming mass vaccination program.

“Why don’t they ask local officials if they still have time to tell people about Cha-Cha while they are too busy with measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 in their communities and convincing people to get vaccinated to fight the disease? The House leadership seems out of touch with reality and should come to their senses and spend their time and energy instead on helping encourage people to get vaccinated instead of conducting plenary debates about the highly divisive issue of constitutional reform,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte recalled that a former fellow congressman, Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco, was quoted in news reports as saying that local government executives do not have the time to even talk or think about Cha-Cha, much less promote it among their constituents as they have their hands full dealing with the pandemic.

Villafuerte is a close ally of ousted speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who on Monday said Velasco’s Bayanihan 3 might not be approved in time to help those who need it the most.

“I have always believed that the Filipino family deserves the best, and this (Bayanihan 3) is a step in that direction. But the reality is, it might not come soon enough for those who are struggling to make ends meet now,” Cayetano said in a social media post.

Cayetano noted that while several such proposals have been filed both in the House and in the Senate, the country’s economic managers and the Executive Department “still have a few concerns and objections about the package, especially on its fiscal impact.”

He said the proposed bill would also have to face a long series of discussions in the House.

“Many of our countrymen are already suffering and they cannot wait while the bill is being debated on,” he said.

Instead, Cayetano urged his fellow lawmakers to tackle HB 8597 or the proposed Bangon Pamilyang Pilipino (BPP) Assistance Program which would provide P10,000 cash assistance per family.

The bill, which Cayetano and his allies filed on Feb. 1, aims to provide the beneficiaries with additional assistance in recognition of the effects of the pandemic, the economic setbacks, and the hardships brought by the previous year.

It also aims to empower Filipino families, increase household consumption, and boost the nation’s economic activity.

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