House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez on Wednesday cited the need for both chambers of Congress to convene and pass a measure extending the validity of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 that will expire by the end of the month.
Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on rules, said the government has yet to utilize some P18 billion in funds for the Philippine COVID-19 response under the Bayanihan 2.
“I am very confident that (Senate President Vicente Sotto III) and (Speaker Lord Allan Velasco) are in close coordination (on the issue),” Romualdez said at a news conference.
The remaining P60.9 billion unused funds under Bayanihan 2 must be utilized immediately following its expiration om June 30, Senator Sonny Angara said yesterday.
Quoting the Budget department, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said P123.2 billion or 87.01 percent of the Bayanihan 2 funds have been “obligated.”
But Roque said he had no information on whether or not President Rodrigo Duterte would call a special session of Congress to extend the validity of the Bayanihan 2 COVID-19 response fund.
With just a week left before Republic Act 11519 or the law extending the availability of appropriations under Bayanihan 2 expires, Angara said government had “very little time left” to utilize these funds.
“These have been allocated to them since September last year. Billions of funds in the Bayanihan 2 are still unused. The extension of Bayanihan 2 funds is until June 30 so there is a need to make fast the disbursement of the funds,” he said.
Six implementing agencies or programs have obligation rates below 50 percent and two that are below 10 percent, Angara noted
“Congress acted with urgency in passing Bayanihan 2 in order to address the urgent needs of the different sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We owe it to our kababayans who are in dire need of assistance to act just as swiftly especially now with just a few days left in the Bayanihan 2 extension law,” he said.
Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means in his aide memoire to the Speaker and Romualdez, said that without an extension to Bayanihan 2, “provinces potentially face a situation of having their contact tracing and healthcare response capacities drastically reduced for at least 26 days during a period of COVID-19 case surges.”
“The extension is a matter of life and death in many communities, as contact tracers and augmented human resources for health were hired under Bayanihan 2 contracts that will also expire by June 30,” Salceda said.
If Bayanihan 2 expires, this will also mean P15.2 billion in various economic support programs to expire, he added.
Salceda also acknowledged that as of May 31, more than P18.4 billion in unobligated funds for critical pandemic response and recovery programs are about to expire.
Angara prodded the implementing agencies (IAs) to act faster in using the billions of unused funds as they will revert to the National Treasury after June 30.
Under Bayanihan 2, a total of P40.5 billion was provided for health, which includes the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, the special risk allowance and compensation for health workers who contract COVID-19, and the hiring of contact tracers.
A total of P55 billion was provided to the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, Small Business Corporation, and the Philippine Guarantee Corporation as capital infusion, primarily for the provision of low-interest loans to micro small and medium enterprises.
To assist the transport sector, a total of P9.5 billion was provided for cash subsidies and service contracting of the displaced drivers.
For education, P8.9 billion was allocated to assist the DepEd in implementing digital education, the development of smart campuses of the state universities and colleges, and the provision of subsidies and allowances for deserving students, among others.
The tourism sector was provided P10 billion for programs including cash-for-work, low-interest loans, and for tourist guide training and subsidies.
For the agriculture sector, P24 billion was allocated as a stimulus package to ensure food security and continuous productivity of the sector.
Angara noted how the different IAs have varying reasons for the slow utilization of funds for their programs—from delays in the bidding process to lack of data on the intended recipients.
“We strongly urge the IAs to work faster in completing their respective processes so that the intended beneficiaries of the programs we identified under Bayanihan 2 will get the help that they badly need at this time,” Angara said.
Bayanihan 2 was signed into law on September 11, 2020 and expired on December 19, 2020.
To give more time for the IAs to utilize the funds allocated to them, Congress approved the extension of the availability of the funds under Bayanihan 2 until June 30, 2021, through RA 11519, which was signed into law on December 29, 2020.
Angara expects the delays in fund releases to be raised when Congress begins its deliberations on the 2022 national budget in the coming months.