The House of Representatives is expected to ratify the Bayanihan 2 bill Monday, Aug. 24, and will make sure that emergency cash assistance to low-income households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is distributed quickly and efficiently.
"We are set to ratify the Bayanihan 2 bill when we resume session tomorrow. But this time, we made sure that certain provisions are set in place for a strict implementation of the law," said House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Sunday.
"From Day One of the implementation of law, the House of Representatives will closely monitor how government agencies disburse the budget allocated to them. Delays in disbursing funds to the needy are no longer acceptable," Romualdez said, alluding to the confusion and delays that attended the distribution of cash assistance under the first Bayanihan law.
The Senate approved the consolidated version of the bill last week.
Once signed by President Duterte, the measure provides an emergency subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 to affected low income households in areas under granular lockdown and to households with recently returned overseas Filipino sorkers. The amount will be computed based on prevailing regional minimum wage rates.
This time, however, Congress mandated that the "vetting and validation of beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), and the related liquidation report thereto shall be simplified to expedite the distribution of the subsidy."
Romualdez also noted that the law now mandates all government agencies concerned to submit to Congress a definitive and actual list of SAP beneficiaries.
"This will allow Congress to exercise its oversight function more efficiently in monitoring how these funds are disbursed to the beneficiaries. We do not want a repeat of Bayanihan 1 where absence of database resulted in confusion in distribution of funds," Romualdez said.
The P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy will also cover unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers or employees due to COVID-19, including probationary, project, seasonal, contractual and casual employees.
Other major items included in the P160 billion Bangon Fund of Bayanihan 2 include:
• A capital infusion of P39.47 billion in government banks;
• P24 billion to boost agriculture and provide assistance to farmers and fishermen;
• P13.5 billion for benefits and hiring of more health care workers;
• P13 billion for a cash-for-work program;
• P9.5 billion for assistance to public utility drivers and other programs of Department of Transportation;
• P6 billion for "individuals in crisis" and other programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development;
• P5 billion for hiring of contract tracers;
• P4.5 billion for the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, and for expansion of government hospital capacity;
• P4.5 billion for isolation facilities, hotel accommodation, food and transportation of COVID19 patients;
• P4 billion for the tourism industry;
• P4 billion for Department of Education's implementation of digital learning;
• P3 billion for procurement of personal protective equipment, face masks, face shields;
• P3 billion for development of smart campuses;
• P2 billion subsidy for local government units paying interest on loans secured from government banks;
• P1.5 billion assistance to local government units;
• P1 billion for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority scholarships;
• P820 million for assistance to overseas Filipino workers.
• P600 million in subsidies, allowance for students severely affected by the pandemic;
• P300 million in subsidies, allowance for teachers, part time faculty, other employees of state universities and colleges; and
• P180 million in allowances for national athletes and coaches.
"We have all learned our lessons in the implementation of Bayanihan Act. We now have to ensure that the money goes where it matters the most. No duplication of beneficiaries, but no one left behind," Romualdez said.
Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera, a House deputy minority leader, welcomed the assistance provided by Bayanihan 2, but said these do not go far enough.
“The government not only needs to deliver targeted aid to smaller businesses that need help the most, but also to reduce the tax burdens and red tape that are holding many businesses back,” she said.
The government must also extend the same help even to large companies that employ a lot of workers, she said.
“We have to take note that commercial rent relief has been the main request of small businesses since mandatory closures began in mid-March as a result of the community quarantine imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
She said the current relief package may be “too little, too late” for many micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
“After almost six months since the first government-imposed community quarantine, a lot of small businesses have shut permanently and more worry they may also have to close down for good if current conditions don’t improve,” she noted.
Another minority leader, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. on Sunday called on the government to procure personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and other paraphernalia that are locally manufactured pursuant to the provisions of the Bayanihan to Recover as Act or the Bayanihan 2.
He lamented over reports that the government is buying cheap but substandard PPE from China despite the availability of locally manufactured PPE meeting the international testing and certification standards.
“As a general rule, our procurement laws require us to buy the cheapest available products so long as they hew to particular specifications,” he said.
"However, in this case, we have to consider two things: first, the safety of our health care workers and second, the need to prioritize and patronize locally-manufactured products to spur economic activity," he said.
The House of Representatives recognizes the significance of helping local producers.
Bayanihan 2 allots P3 billion for the purchase of face masks, face shields and PPE.
“The country will benefit many times over if we use those funds to procure internationally certified, locally-produced PPEs,” he said.
Also on Sunday, Senator Nancy Binay said she was thankful that the bicameral conference committee ensured that the retirement benefits of employees would be tax-exempt under Bayanihan 2.
Binay pushed for the inclusion of a clause in Bayanihan 2 exempting tax-free retirement benefits for employees who retire from private companies from June 5 until Dec. 31 this year.
The bill provides for a P165-billion fund for the country’s COVID-19 response and recovery plan.