Wage subsidy for SMEs backed

The proposed P24-billion wage subsidy program will enable small and medium private enterprises to retain their employees and prevent further job losses, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said Sunday.

To fund the program, Drilon urged the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to immediately recommend to the President the realignment of unused special purpose funds (SPFs) and unobligated or unreleased balances of budget items in the 2021 national budget, including the P19 billion earmarked for anti-insurgency efforts.

Drilon, a former Labor secretary, said 4.4 million Filipinos went jobless in 2020, resulting in an 10 percent unemployment rate.

Drilon said his study of the 2021 General Appropriations Act shows that there are P556.49 billion worth of items in the budget that can be realigned to fund the much-needed assistance to private sector workers and poor Filipinos.

“I urge the DBM to immediately recommend to the President the realignment of these huge allocations in the budget,” said Drilon.

He said there is no harm if the country postpones some of these items and use the unobligated balances to feed millions of Filipinos who are struggling to put food on the table and keep the jobs of thousands, if not millions, of Filipinos.

Among the items that can be the source of realignments, according to Drilon, are the special purpose funds that only require the approval of the President in order for them to be released and utilized, including the P13 billion contingent fund and P4.5 billion in confidential and intelligence funds.

He also renewed his call to realign the P19 billion anti-insurgency fund, of which P16.4 billion will go to more than 800 insurgency-free barangays.

“This anti-insurgency program can wait so we can reallocate the funds to more important and high-impact programs such as a wage subsidy and ayuda (assistance). The GAA allows the use of this fund for financial subsidy,” he added.

Drilon also cited the huge allocations for various infrastructure projects under the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

He said that given the pandemic, he is certain that a significant portion of the budget of the Public Works department for 2021 remains unused.

“Given the absorptive capacity of DPWH and the continuing pandemic, DPWH will not be able to implement and construct all these local roads, bridges and multi-purpose halls this year. We can put to good use these funds to provide food on the table of Filipinos who went hungry and lost jobs,” Drilon said.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) was studying the wage subsidy proposal.

Lopez, who chairs the inter-agency National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS) Task Force, said that the P24-billion proposed wage subsidy for private sector workers is first on the list of the government’s eight-point employment recovery agenda.

The wage subsidy is “intended to preserve and protect existing employment,” Lopez said.

“The proposed program shall provide wage subsidy equivalent to P8,000 per month for a maximum of three months to affected workers through establishments’ payroll system,” he said.

Senator Joel Villanueva threw his support behind the wage subsidy.

“I support it because we have to diversify our [assistance] program,” said Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee, adding the conventional track is to help workers who have lost their jobs.

“This one helps [protect] workers from losing theirs. We have to invest more in payroll retention and job protection programs that help both employers and workers,” he said.

He cited government data which shows that micro- small- and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) are 99.5 percent of all registered business enterprises in the country, and they are responsible for 62.4 percent of the country’s total employment.

“When we aid a struggling MSME, our subsidy cascades down to the workers who will be able to keep their paycheck because we have helped avert a shutdown,” he said.

In such a kind of a rescue, he said the government wins too, because it will continue receiving taxes paid by labor and capital.

Meanwhile, opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima called for 10 days paid leaves for employees afflicted with COVID-19.

She filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 2148 mandates paid pandemic leaves for all qualified employees, whether in public or private sector, who are confirmed cases of COVID-19, during the duration of the pandemic.

The bill seeks to grant 10 working days of paid COVID-19 leave for employees who contracted the virus and need to undergo quarantine and who because of the nature of their occupation, work or activity cannot avail of a telecommuting program or work from home scheme.

De Lima said granting the 10-day pandemic leave for employees not only protects the welfare of workers and their families but also ensures occupational safety and health in workplaces and avoids further spread of the virus in the workplace.

Meanwhile, former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his allies on Saturday gave P10,000 in cash assistance each to nearly 200 beneficiaries as part of their campaign for the immediate passage of a bill to provide P10,000 cash assistance to displaced workers and poor families.

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