The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading six major bills that are aimed at strengthening the government's efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) and mitigate the economic crisis that the lockdowns caused.
"As promised, we worked round the clock to ensure the approval of major anti-COVID measures that were filed in the House of Representatives,” Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said Friday, just before Congress went on recess.
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"These landmark measures are the contribution of the House of Representatives in the war against the COVID-19. We go on sine die adjournment today (Friday), fully satisfied that we have done our work in this age of pandemic,” he said.
Topping the list of anti-COVID-related measures was House Bill 6815 or the P1.3 trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE Philippines Act), which is designed to protect jobs and bail out job-creating businesses.
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"The Department of Labor and Employment is not discounting the possibility that 10 million workers will lose their jobs this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We acted with dispatch in approving the ARISE Philippines Act to save our people from joblessness and their families from starvation," said Romualdez, who chairs the committee on rules.
"With this measure, we hope to protect the jobs of 62 percent of the workforce who are employed in MSMEs (micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises)," he said.
The P1.3-trillion ARISE Philippines Act provides, among others, a budget of P650 billion for an expanded infrastructure program on health care, education and food security. A P20 billion fund was also allotted for mass testing.
Another measure approved was the HB 6865 or the “Crushing COVID-19 Act," which mandates the conduct of baseline Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing as the protocol for COVID-19 testing for the vulnerable members of the society, including those who do not exhibit symptoms.
The bill, if passed into law, would require the government to use the RT-PCR test for the following:
• Patients and health workers with mild to severe symptoms, or no symptoms but with a history of travel or contact with a confirmed case;
• Non-health frontliners responding to the pandemic;
• Filipino workers with preexisting medical conditions;
• Persons, both Filipinos and foreigners, entering the Philippines from abroad;
• Filipino workers who have quarantine passes and do most errands for their households;
• Patients required by their doctors to submit an RT-PCR test result prior to a treatment or procedure.
Also approved on third reading was HB 6817 or the COVID-19-Related Anti-Discrimination Act, which protect persons who are confirmed, suspected or probable COVID-19 cases.
Discrimination is also prohibited against essential and frontline workers, health care workers, responders, recognized volunteers, stranded individuals, service workers, repatriated OFWs and family members of the mentioned categories.
Persons who are found guilty of harassment, assault, unjust distinction, exclusion or restriction against individuals who fit in the categories can be imprisoned for one year to 10 years.
Another COVID-related measure passed was HB 6816 or the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Act, which provides help to financial institutions to resolve their debts and manage their non-performing assets (NPAs) during and after the pandemic.
The bill mandates the Bangko Sentral to provide the banking system with the support it needs to insulate itself from a buildup of bad loans that may result from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Also approved was HB 6895 or An Act To Lengthen the School Calendar From Two Hundred Days to Not More Than Two Hundred Twenty Class Days,” which empowers the President to set a different date for the start of the school year during a state of emergency or state of calamity.
Last to hurdle plenary approval on Friday was HB 6920 or the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020.
The proposed CURES Act aims to empower the government to tap into a P1.5 trillion fund, where P500 billion would be released annually in the next three years to fund construction projects in five sectors affected by the coronavirus crisis – health, education, agriculture, local roads, and livelihood.
Infrastructure projects would include barangay health centers, municipal and city hospitals, digital equipment for COVID-19 testing, telemedicine services to post-harvest facilities, trading centers, and farm-to-market roads.
The House of Representatives also approved on second reading HB 6864 or the proposed "Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020" to prepare and educate Filipinos for life through new norms of social or physical distancing and safety measures in government and private offices, schools, commercial establishments and other public spaces.
All told, the House processed 1,630 measures in 60 session days, including the passage of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act in March and approval on the third and final reading of six bills aimed at ensuring the Duterte administration’s strong response against COVID-19.
In his sine die adjournment speech Friday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano hinted at a special session to approve the Bayanihan II to support the continuity of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The House version of the Bayanihan 2 is pending in the period of amendments.
Congress on Friday adjourned its sessions sine die, signaling the end of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress, and will resume on July 27 or the beginning of the Second Regular Session, the same day that President Rodrigo Duterte will deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address.
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