Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Wednesday said he would recommend to the leadership of the House of Representatives to adopt the Senate version of the Bayanihan to Heal as One 2 bill, which the upper chamber of Congress passed on Tuesday.
READ: Palace sees no urgency for Bayanihan 2
Salceda added that the House is ready to introduce other economic reforms as amendments, and said a bicameral committee meeting may be called to reconcile the chambers’ figures and come up with a final version for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature.
Bayanihan 2 would give the government additional funds to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but the chambers’ respective proposals are still P22 billion apart.
Senate Bill 1564 provides for a total ₱140 billion standby fund for socioeconomic and health programs, while the House version, House Bill 6953, proposes a P162 billion standby fund to be used to support operations and response measures to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Although Salceda said congressmen have proposed the same areas to be funded by the government as in the senators’ measure, they differ in the amounts to devote to several areas.
The House version of Bayanihan 2 bill provides:
-- P12 billion for the procurement of PCR testing and extraction kits, supplies and materials for COVID-19 testing and for the enhancement of DOH capacity to provide healthcare services (compared to P10 billion in the Senate version);
-- P18 billion for the implementation of cash-for-work program and the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) (P15 billion in Senate version);
-- P5 billion for the implementation of the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD);
-- P21 billion for unemployment or involuntary separation assistance to the displaced workers in health, education, tourism, culture and arts, creative industry, transportation and other sectors affected by the pandemic (P17 billion in Senate version);
-- P50 billion for infusion of capital to government financial institutions (same in Senate version);
-- P21 billion support to the agriculture sector (P17 billion in Senate version);
--P21 billion assistance to the critically impacted businesses in the transportation industry and for the development of accessible sidewalks and protected bicycle lanes (P17 billion in Senate version)
-- P10 billion to finance Department of Tourism programs to assist impacted businesses in the tourism industry (same in Senate version);
-- 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.
House Bill 6953 is up for second reading approval, as the chamber adjourned sine die last month without passing the Bayanihan 2 bill because the consultation on the amount and the source of the funds with government officials took some time.
In his sponsorship speech last month, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte said the bill “encompasses subsidies for displaced workers from regular employees to contract workers, displaced migrant workers, students both in public and private institutions; micro-, small-, and medium-enterprises] as well as farmers and fishermen.”
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday said people should not use the COVID-19 crisis to make money as as she urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a special audit on all government spending related to the response to COVID-19 pandemic under the first Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469).
“Congress early this year, through the Bayanihan Act, gave the government comprehensive powers, including the power to re-align and allocate billions of taxpayers’ money to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. We need to know if the help went to the intended beneficiaries,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros’ resolution for a special audit was also signed by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate finance committee chairman Juan Edgardo Angara, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and minority Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Leila de Lima.
The Bayanihan Act allowed government to swiftly procure commodities, facilities, utilities and services deemed necessary for COVID-19 response with exemptions from the requirements of bidding as laid out in the Government Procurement Reform Act (Republic Act No. 9184). However, various procurements made in relation to COVID-19 have been marred by allegations of overpricing, Hontiveros said.
She cited the purchase of automated nucleic acid extractors for P4 million against P1.75 million paid by the private sector; personal protective equipment (PPE) sets of PhP 1,800 when the market price ranges from P400 to PhP 1,000, and the importation of more expensive RT-PCR test kits from China and Korea while cheaper Philippine-made ones are gathering dust in laboratories.
The said resolution also cited the purchase of allegedly overpriced PPE by the Procurement Services of the Department of Budget and Management [PS-DBM] and Philippine International Trading Corp. [PITC] “while many health workers and frontliners have fallen ill from the lack of adequate protective gear.”
“Were there enough funds for the PPE? And if enough, why did they not go to front liners?” Hontiveros asked.
She noted that this health crisis should not a relaxation in accountability measures. “The people should be able to trust the government that no one is lining their pockets with taxpayers’ money,” she added.
Also on Wednesday, Senator Joel Villanueva said the P1 billion allocated to TESDA under the Bayanihan 2 bill would go a long way in training displaced workers and returning overseas Filipino workers.
Villanueva said it was high time for the agency to step up to the enormous task of retooling workers to help them navigate a job market under the “new normal,” especially since the President mentioned the need of workers to be trained.
READ: House ready to take up Bayanihan 2