Senators fortify Bayanihan 2 with detailed plans to push Philippines 'ahead of the COVID-19 curve'

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 02 2020 12:54 AM

MANILA - Several senators on Monday sought to "strengthen" the proposed measure that extends the validity of the President's power to realign funds for coronavirus-related projects, by adding details as to how the government could aid sectors hit by the global pandemic.

The proposed "Bayanihan to Recover as One" (Bayanihan 2) bill should not just extend the "Bayanihan to Heal as One Act" by 3 months, but should also be "made more potent" to help the Philippines "stay ahead of the curve," Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in his interpellation.

"As we begin a new chapter, we must also write a new playbook... We must not only flatten the curve, but we must also be ahead of it," Recto said.

Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri's Senate Bill No. 1546 seeks to extend the validity of the government's cash aid programs and the president's power to realign funds until September 30, 2020.

"The easy way forward is to simply extend the validity of the existing bill... or we can strengthen it, make it more potent so the end product is not merely a bill that is given a fresh lease on life but is loaded with new features drawn from what our people experienced in the last 75 days," Recto said.

The Senate President Pro Tempore filed his own version of the Bayanihan Law extension, but with an additional provision that entitles the President to spend an additional P250 billion on coronavirus-related projects on top of the existing funds the chief executive could realign.

Under Senate Bill 1564 which consolidated Zubiri's, Recto's and 8 other related bills, the executive department will be authorized to allocate the following amounts to the following projects:

  • P236B for COVID19 response
  • P50B capital for government financial institutions
  • -P50B assistance for affected workers, ofws and other affected workers
  • P46B for the Department of Agriculture
  • P30B fund for DOH’s needed acquisition for PCR test kits and other supplies
  • P25B for the Department of Transportation
  • P25B for cash-for-work under TUPAD
  • P10B for the Department of Tourism

"We are just providing them a tool. It is still up to them," Recto said, noting that the executive branch is expected to sounce the fund from international lenders.

The new Bayanihan bill "seeks to strike this balance" between Filipinos' health and safety and the country's ailing economy, Senate Ways and Means Committee chair Pia Cayetano said in a statement.

"There's no one-size-fits-all approach vs. a novel virus," Cayetano said.

"It seeks to save more lives, while also supporting our people, as we try to regain our economic footing," she said.

The Philippines' lockdown of its most populated island Luzon has cost the economy P18 billion in losses a day, Recto said. Nearly all economic activity and travel in the capital region and nearby areas were shut for 75 days.

MORE DETAILED PLANS

Sen. Francis Tolentino, whose hometown Tagaytay City was also devastated by the eruption of the Taal Volcano, said the bill should outline a more specific roadmap on how to jumpstart Philippine tourism after the pandemic.

"2020 would have been the golden age of Philippine tourism if not for this pandemic," Tolentino said.

"Siguro itong bill na ito dapat magkaroon ng how to jumpstart our tourism sector... Hindi ba mas maganda na specific kesa isang sweeping statement?" he said, noting that other countries like Italy has clear cut programs like giving tourists hotel, flight and museum discounts.

Sen. Grace Poe wanted to have specific guidelines on how to identify qualified beneficiaries of low-interest loans, saying the program needs to be safeguarded to avoid deficiencies.

"What is the qualification because everybody is experiencing hardships now... How do we safeguard it from companies that borrow and later on decide that they will just close down [their business]?" she said.

PROVISION ON PENALTIES SCRAPPED

The new Bayanihan bill heeded the call of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to scrap Section 6 of the original Act that imposes jail time or fines against violators of quarantine policies as there are existing laws that subject offenders to punishments.

But Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa said the new bill must clarify that the removal of the provision does not mean that violators of coronavirus-related rules would not be absolved from penalties.

"I have no opossition to this deletion. I just want to have our law enforcers guided accordingly," said Dela Rosa, a former police and corrections bureau chief before he was elected as a lawmaker.

CASH AID CONTINUES

Cash aid for some 18M indigent families amounting between P5,000 and P8,000 will continue under the the Bayanihan 2, Senate Finance Committee chair Sonny Angara, who sponsored the measure, said.

Government assistance of several sectors will also remain, he said.
 
"We are also to continue giving wage subsidy programs, making sure that freelancers, self-employed, informal sectors, the repatriated overseas filipino workers, and workers in various industries, construction, tourism, public transportation, trades, films, audio-visual workers and others in the creative industries are included," he said.

At least 15 senators have signed a committee report in support of Bayanihan 2, but the Senate is still waiting for Malacañang to certify the bill as urgent so that the legislative branch can pass it on third and final reading before Congress goes on a 2-month break on June 5, 2020.

"Still up in the air because we need the certification to pass it this week and we need House approval of a similar measure too," Angara told reporters in a text message.

Under the Congress' rules, there must be at least 3 days between the sponsorship of a bill and its passage on 2nd and 3rd reading to give lawmakers enough time to study the proposal before voting on the measure. 

The rule is lifted for bills certified as urgent by the President.

President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to certify Bayanihan 2 bill as urgent.

- with a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News