Velasco’s stimulus bill gets 162 solons

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s Bayanihan 3 bill that proposes a P420-billion fund is gathering bipartisan support from the House of Representatives.

Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Kristine Singson-Meehan said at the latest count, 162 members of the supermajority, minority and independent blocs in the House had manifested their support for House Bill 8628 or the proposed Bayanihan to Arise As One Act that proposes to stimulate the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Velasco filed the bill with Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo last week.

But Malacanang said he proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act (Bayanihan 3) could only be passed if the country still has available funds.

“We’ll see first if we still need it, and second, if we still have possible fund sources,” Roque, a former lawmaker, said in a virtual Palace press briefing.

Singson-Meehan said HB 8628 deserved bipartisan support in the House for being “well-thought-out” and “truly responsive to the needs of the people” amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“The sectors that will benefit from the interventions provided for in the bill are well-targeted, which provides an assurance that the proposed funds won’t go to waste and it will surely help the economy recover from COVID-19,” Singson-Meehan said.

Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera said the latest version of the Bayanihan 3 “provides for a comprehensive and integrated strategy to help the economy recover faster from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.”

“The measure proposes a P420-billion fund for the implementation of much-needed COVID-19 response and recovery interventions grounded on economic inclusivity and collective growth,” Herrera pointed out.

HB 8628 seeks to allocate P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households; P100 billion for capacity-building for impacted sectors; P52 billion for wage subsidies; P70 billion for capacity-building for agricultural producers; P30 billion for internet allowances to teachers and students; P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers; P25 billion for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines; and P5 billion for the rehabilitation of areas affected by recent floods and typhoons.

According to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, lawmakers should not hesitate in approving these additional funds since these were not considered in the National Expenditure Program that Malacañang submitted last year to assist Congress in the review, deliberation and passage of the 2021 national budget.

Reports that the Philippine economy contracted 9.5 percent in 2020, the worst performance in the country’ post-war history, underscores the importance and urgency of swiftly passing Bayanihan 3, Salceda stressed.

“In the pursuit of an economic rebound, restoring public trust and confidence in social and economic institutions is essential,” Salceda said. “Thus, it is important that the government take the lead in promoting business confidence and social welfare through increased, well-targeted spending.”

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed concern over the current state of the Philippine economy which was badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said Tuesday.

In a virtual press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte was aware that his administration needed to pursue more economic stimulus measures to revive the country’s economy.

“The President is really concerned and he knows that we need to recover in the shortest time possible,” Roque said.

The Philippine economy shrank a record 9.5 percent in 2020, the worst economic performance since after World War II, based on the data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority last month.

Due to the economic crash triggered by the pandemic, Duterte held an “unscheduled” meeting with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Roque said.

Duterte and Dominguez, he said, discussed ways on how to reboot the Philippine economy.

On Feb. 1, Duterte assured Filipinos that his administration was doing its best to keep the Philippine economy afloat after it contracted by a record 9.5 percent in 2020.

Duterte made the vow as he admitted that the country’s economy is “sinking deeper and deeper” into recession amid the strict quarantine and health protocols due to the pandemic.

Duterte’s economic managers have expressed optimism that the Philippine economy would recover this year as the country aims to start its mass vaccination program this month.

Earlier, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved the proposal to allow people as young as 10 years old to go out to avoid economic deterioration.

Duterte, however, overturned the IATF-EID’s decision, saying children aged 10 and below must stay home as the new COVID-19 variant reached the country.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who joined Roque’s press briefing, said the economic team would propose to Duterte the further reopening of the economy.

Lopez believed it was “about time” to relax the quarantine measures imposed in the country.

“We will make the proposal to de-escalate, to relax [quarantine status]. It’s about time,” he said.

Lopez was also confident that easing restrictions by March would be considered, given that the situation in the country was already “stable.”

Meantime, Roque also vowed to validate the report that frontline health workers have yet to receive their hazard duty pay, stressing that President Duterte would not allow any delay in the release of their hazard pay.

At the same time, several lawmakers have sought a congressional inquiry on the release and utilization of appropriations authorized under Republic Act 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon Garin, a key proponent of House Resolution 1558, urged the House committee on public accounts to conduct the inquiry, citing the need for accountability given that the delays in releases forego the opportunity to rescue the economy and correlate with actual economic losses.

Citing the report of the Office of the President issued on Nov 3, 2020, Garin said out of the 140 billion pesos appropriated funds under Bayanihan 2, only 76.2 billion pesos has been released.

In addition to this, she said a total 39.4 billion pesos appropriated for the infusion of capital to government financial institutions (GFIs) that can potentially help micro-small-medium enterprises from the adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and generate more jobs has yet to reach the intended beneficiaries.

As a member of the bicameral conference committee on the Bayanihan 2 law, Garin lamented that further delaying the release funds would be a disservice to the Filipino people. She added that the programs and projects enumerated in RA 11494 are vital in the recovery path envisioned by Congress.

“The pandemic is now only a month shy from reaching its first year and the country is still reeling from the impact of an economic nosedive. If we don’t act on this, the economic revival we all hope for will not materialize,” she added.

With 4.5 million working Filipinos at risk of losing their jobs, the inquiry aims to shed light on possible solutions to address this danger and the country’s dismal economic performance.

Garin also thanked her fellow legislators who expressed their intent to co-author the bill. With Bayanihan to Rebuild as One (Bayanihan 3) currently in the works in the Lower House, the authors remain optimistic that the inquiry will fill the gaps in the implementation of the law.

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