MANILA, Philippines — Congress is set to hold a special session to pass the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, also known as Bayanihan Act 2, that will extend measures to address the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic, including the social amelioration program (SAP).
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday said the chamber needs to pass the measure under House Bill 6953, which extends the effectivity of Republic Act 11469 – or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act – until Sept. 30.
“We’re expecting to have a special session soon. Hopefully next week or the week after, depending on the schedule from the Palace. But we’re working hard – the DOF (Department of Finance) is working with Congress,” he told reporters in an ambush interview yesterday.
The Taguig-Pateros representative said the House is planning to fund the proposed measure with P140 billion to P200 billion.
“We will look at a separate stimulus,” he bared, referring to the P1.3-trillion proposed Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy (ARISE) Act, which the chamber already passed on final reading before adjournment.
He vowed to institute mechanisms to improve the SAP, particularly the distribution of assistance packages, under the Bayanihan 2 that he promised to be “better and more responsive.”
Cayetano made the commitment after leading the congressional oversight hearing on implementation of the SAP under the first Bayanihan Act earlier this week.
“We want also to ensure that SAP will be given to all Filipinos who need it most. We respect and acknowledge the tremendous work done by the departments involved, but our citizens cannot afford to wait that long. There must be a better way, and together we will find it,” the Speaker stressed.
The Speaker noted that while the government response to this unprecedented crisis has been nothing short of extraordinary, there is still room for improvement.
“Now we must take the hard lessons we have learned in the past months and apply it in the testing, tracing and treatment of patients in order to escape the threat of a more devastating second wave,” he explained.
The House committee of the whole passed HB 6953 last June 3 before Congress adjourned sine die.
The proposed measure seeks allocation of additional funds for continuation of COVID-19 response measures.
Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, co-author of the bill, explained that the proposed law is necessary to allow the national government to continue providing Filipinos with various forms of relief as the health crisis continues while a vaccine remains unavailable.
“This (Bayanihan Act 2) contains similar provisions as contained in the Bayanihan To Heal as One Act. But this is a new and enhanced version – meaning we have put in improved (and) enhanced provisions that will help the economy bounce back and help our people, also the affected sectors, cope with COVID-19,” the Camarines Sur representative stressed during interpellation.
Under HB 6953, P162 billion in funds will be used to support operations and response measures to address the COVID-19 crisis – in addition to the P275-billion funding used under RA 11469, which was enacted last March and is set to expire this month.
This measure will also provide for the grant of P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy for low income families, households with recently returned OFWs and no-work-no-pay individuals such as freelancers and self-employed individuals.
It also grants a one-month emergency subsidy to low-income households that were left out in implementation of the SAP under the first Bayanihan Law.
Specifically, P18 billion will be allotted for the implementation of cash-for-work program and the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD), P5 billion for the implementation of the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and P21 billion for unemployment or involuntary separation assistance to displaced workers in health, education, tourism, culture and arts, creative industry, transportation and other sectors affected by the pandemic.
There will also be P50 billion for infusion of capital to government financial institutions, P21 billion support to the agriculture sector, P21-billion assistance to the critically impacted businesses in the transportation industry and for the development of accessible sidewalks and protected bicycle lanes, P10 billion to finance Department of Tourism programs to assist impacted businesses in the tourism industry, P3-billion assistance to state universities and colleges for their transition to flexible learning modality and P1-billion assistance to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for the development of smart campuses.
Lastly, the bill seeks to provide P12 billion for the procurement of polymerase chain reaction testing and extraction kits, supplies and materials for COVID-19 testing and for the enhancement of Department of Health’s capacity to provide healthcare services.
Senate seeks meeting
Senators are amenable to passing a replacement for the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, but asked Malacañang to hold some preliminary meetings with lawmakers to come up with a final bill that will be acceptable to both Congress and the executive branch.
The senators issued the statement after President Duterte is reportedly planning to call for a special session of Congress to approve the proposed Bayanihan Act 2 that was nearly passed before lawmakers adjourned session last June 5.
Malacañang’s failure to certify Bayanihan 2 as urgent, as well as its insistence on retaining some of Duterte’s special powers – including taking over private medical facilities and transportation – and putting a budget cap on various financial aid to distressed sectors, led to the non-passage of the measure.
The certification from Duterte was needed to shorten the period for passing Bayanihan 2 in Congress, and the Senate waited two days for it, but at the last minute what senators received instead was a list of over 30 amendments on the last day of session, so there was inadequate time to review the changes.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the chamber had passed the measure on second reading “with some amendments that we thought could help stimulate some needed sectors and the economy.”
“However, the finance team did not recommend its certification at that time, so here we are today. Being legislators we swore an oath to do our job with the best of our abilities and so, if there is a call for a special session to address the problems during these trying times then so be it, and we will be there to heed the call,” Zubiri said.
“We would only like to request that the executive department, particularly the finance team, know what they want and coordinate with both houses to come up with a doable compromise so they won’t waste the President’s time and effort in calling a special session,” he said.
Senators originally proposed a P236-billion package for Bayanihan 2 but the Department of Finance, in submitting the proposed amendments, warned the government can only afford P140 billion, at least until the end of the year.
Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday urged the Duterte government to accept its “failures” in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and “listen” to those who want to contribute to the fight.
“It seems that (the government) is in a state of denial. They have done good (initiatives) but there were also some which didn’t work. And for me, if (a strategy) doesn’t work, we need to change it,” Robredo said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
“Because for me this is the time to unite. This is the time for us to all work together. Our office is very small but we have been doing our part. We have to accept our failures so we can correct them,” she said.
Asked if she thinks as a female leader she could have done better to address the crisis, Robredo said countries which succeeded in containing the virus are “inclusive.”
“We would have responded well if many other people are given voices, not just me,” she said. Paolo Romero, Helen Flores
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