Two senators on Thursday filed separate bills to extend the validity of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, giving President Rodrigo Duterte more time during which he can realign appropriations under the national budget to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri both want to extend the validity of the law until Sept. 30 to allow the government to further pursue its efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus and provide stimulus as the economy starts to open up.
In seeking for an extension, Recto acknowledged that the Philippine would need to address another challenge posed by the pandemic, the problem of uncertainty and the lack of business confidence.
He noted that uncertainty in times of a pandemic affect the minds of policy makers, business owners and ordinary citizens alike.
“The dramatic and unexpected impact on the economy has dampened the confidence of business in its ability to survive and eventually, turn around,” Recto said.
He said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of human life and economic growth, is staggering.
“Thus, this moment of history is touted to be man’s darkest hour and perhaps, the bleakest period in this generation’s lifetime,” he said.
Zubiri said the extension will allow the President to continue to exercise the realignment of items in the national budget and other powers granted to him under the law to be able to provide emergency support for vulnerable groups and individuals, expand medical resources to fight COVID-19, and finance emergency initiatives to keep the economy afloat.
The measure seeks to amend the sunset provision of the law limiting its effectivity to only three months. A similar bill has been filed in the House of Representatives.
The Bayanihan law was approved by Congress in an hours-long special session on March 23. Duterte signed the measure into law on March 25.
Among the additional powers granted to the President under the law was the authority to grant a P5,000 to P8,000 cash assistance per month for two months to some 18 million low-income households.
Duterte, for a limited period, was also granted powers to reallocate government funds to measures against COVID-19.
The House of Representatives’ Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC) on Thursday endorsed for plenary approval three bills and two resolutions that will reset the economy with a three-year P1.5-trillion stimulus program by creating jobs through infrastructure spending and boost public health.
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said lawmakers had no choice but to speed the approval of the vital measures.
“We need to have these bills enacted into law as soon as possible if we want to rescue our people from further harm and even starvation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Romualdez said. “The lives and livelihood of our countrymen depends on these measures.”
The House will hold an extended session until Thursday next week to ensure the passage of various important measures before Congress adjourns sine die, he said.
On Tuesday, the DCC approved the P1.3 trillion economic stimulus measure until 2023 under the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Law and the Anti-Discrimination Bill.
Upon the motion of House Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter Wee Palma II, the DCC approved the report of the Social Amelioration Cluster co-chaired by Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur and Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez on House Bill (HB) 6709 or the P1.5 trillion social amelioration program under the proposed “COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020.”
“We all know that dole-outs do not provide a sustainable living to the people. It is incumbent upon us to come up with an economic stimulus package that assures sustainable employment and an improved economy,” said Romualdez.
“We seek to create millions of jobs that will spring from infrastructure projects in the rural areas and, eventually, will lead to the recovery of the economy.”
“We seek to end the unemployment problem through massive investment on public infrastructure, which we describe as shovel-ready projects. This strategy, at the same time, aims to provide a solid impetus to the government’s Balik-Probinsya program by creating jobs in the countryside,” he added.
A party-list legislator on Thursday urged the government to be more aggressive in offering the Philippines as an alternative investment destination for companies doing business in China in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The government should take a more aggressive approach to convince firms seeking to move out of China that the Philippines is a good alternative for them given our unique competitive advantage, highly-skilled manpower and improved ease of doing business,” Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera said.
Herrera, a deputy majority leader, said the Philippines should seize the opportunity as the United States and Europe seek to reduce reliance on China as a manufacturing base in the aftermath of the pandemic and the resultant supply disruption.
Calls for an exit from China mounted as the Japanese government recently decided to provide subsidies to businesses that move production back to Japan, covering up to two-thirds of their relocation cost—a move that was fully supported by the U.S. government.
Herrera said it was never too late to convince some of the companies leaving China to consider the Philippines as a manufacturing alternative.
“This is a golden opportunity for the Philippines to up its game in securing more foreign direct investment projects to shore up the economy battered by a two-month community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Herrera said.