The House of Representatives is expected to pass a third Bayanihan bill that will provide P247 billion in emergency response and economic recovery programs.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, one of the authors of House Bill 8059, or the Bayanihan to Rebuild as One Act, said the bill hopes to ensure that national and local government units can mobilize “robust response and recovery programs” in the face of recent typhoons and slower than expected recovery in the third quarter of the year.
“We are confident that this will breeze through the House, as the Majority Leader (Ferdinand Martin Romualdez), who also chairs the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee, is our lead sponsor,” Salceda said.
“I made it clear to the economic managers that if we recover more quickly than expected in the 3rd quarter, a third Bayanihan [law] may no longer be necessary. Seeing as it is that the economy did not recover as quickly as expected in the past quarter, and given the recent spate of typhoons, we need to provide emergency aid,” said Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means.
He said the House is likely to pass the measure – which is also co-authored by party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, chairman of the House economic affairs committee – within the next two weeks.
The measure is divided mainly into health, regulatory, and economic interventions.
HB 8059 includes P20 billion for the procurement of vaccines, the creation of a vaccine committee, and measures to ensure the sufficiency of health supplies.
The proposal also contains rental housing relief, an eviction moratorium, condonation of agrarian reform loans, small business regulatory relief, and credit mediation and refinancing assistance.
“You will see that my contribution here is primarily the structural credit interventions. We have already introduced around P1.9 trillion in new liquidity due to monetary policies. But credit uptake is still low Part of it is due to demand. But part of it is due to the structural defects of usual loan products. That’s why the state has to come in and create more favorable loan structures,” Salceda said.
The measure also includes a P40 billion local government support fund for calamity response, P100 billion in health and resiliency-related infrastructure programs, P10 billion in assistance programs for agriculture and fisheries, P7 billion for rent refinancing, P10 billion for companies to borrow for paying 13th month benefits, P10 billion for Tulong Para sa Displaced workers (TUPAD), P10 billion for the Covid Assistance Measures Program (CAMP), P 10 billion for Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS), P10 billion for the Medical Assistance for Indigents Program (MAIP), P5 billion each for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED, ) and another P10 billion for Department of Education programs.
Salceda said that while he understands the reservations of the executive branch to spend more money for the COVID-19 response effort, he believes that a third stimulus program is necessary to ensure that the crisis does not “eat up too much of our economic structure.”
“It is very hard to recover when so many businesses have already closed for good,” Salceda said.
Salceda added that while the first two Bayanihan measures were able to keep the economy afloat, he believes that the third stimulus measure is “the necessary booster shot so we can truly begin recuperating in 2021.”
“The executive can make their concerns known, and we will take them into consideration. They can even give us a fiscal limit to work on. But what we cannot accept is the idea that we have spent enough in 2020. That may have been barely true if the recent calamities did not strike. But the sheer fact is that more people have gone into poverty this year than we expected,” Salceda said.
Meanwhile, House Deputy Majority Leader Bernadette Herrera called for the immediate release of funds aimed at helping micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Herrera made the call with only one month left before the expiration of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.
Herrera said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) must ensure struggling MSMEs would benefit from the P10 billion allocated for the COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) under the Bayanihan 2.
“Congress allocated that amount precisely to help these struggling MSMEs so that they could continue operating and paying their employees,” Herrera, representing the Bagong Henerasyon Party-list in Congress, pointed out.
“Our economy is slowly opening up again and our MSMEs will play a big role in its revival, so we should provide them with the necessary assistance right away,” she added.
According to the DTI, P8 billion out of the P10 billion allotted for CARES has already been released to the Small Business Corp.
The P10 billion was intended as capital infusion to the SBCorp to assist MSMEs and the tourism industry through the provision of low-interest loans.
The CARES fund was expected to benefit about 100,000 enterprises and 200,000 workers.
However, the DTI itself revealed that only a total of 6,600 loans have been approved so far, equivalent to P1.2 billion; while 26,000 CARES loan applications are still pending with the SBCorp.
“The DTI should push SBCorp to fast-track the processing of loans and release the money to qualified MSMEs ASAP,” Herrera said.
The party-list lawmaker said MSMEs are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the community quarantine restrictions. “The pandemic pushed many MSMEs into financial hardship, prompting them to either shut down permanently or lay off some workers just to stay afloat,” she said.
Bayanihan 2 succeeded the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which also gave President Duterte special powers to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law is set to expire on Dec. 19, but many lawmakers are keen on extending the validity if some of its provisions to make sure all of the benefits would be distributed to their intended beneficiaries.