The House of Representatives Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) Subcommittee on Economic Stimulus Package has resumed its technical working group meeting recently with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano affirming that the House is ready to fast-track discussions of the proposed Philippine Economic Recovery Act (PERA) in case it is certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.
PERA consolidates the proposed “National Stimulus Strategy Act” of Rep. Joey Salceda (2nd District, Albay) and the “Economy Moving Forward as One Act” of Rep. Stella Quimbo (2nd District, Marikina City).
Cayetano noted the importance of giving the Executive branch flexibility given the constraints amid the ongoing pandemic.
“The less urgent or time-bound it is, meaning if we have 48 instead of 24 hours to finish it, the better I think, the quality of the bill. But if we are given only a certain amount of time, then it’s but correct (lang) to give the Executive more flexibility and then just to work with them on it,” the veteran legislator said.
In the meantime, the seasoned lawmaker said the government is weighing the insight of health experts to “balance and put together the public health strategy with the strategy for economics.”
“Pwede mong buhayin ang ekonomiya pero hindi mo pwedeng buhayin ang patay. But at the same time, hindi ka pwedeng iligtas sa virus, mamatay ka naman sa gutom,” he said.
Cayetano said that the House and the Senate will “play by ear” the opening of session on May 4, depending on the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
“Yes, there’s a new normal. Nakapag-usap kami ni Senate President (Tito) Sotto nang kaunti. Under the Constitution, we have to reconvene May 4. Definitely magko-convene kami. Kung naka-enhanced community quarantine pa, and we’re in Metro Manila and Quezon City specifically, maaaring online pa rin ‘yung aming gagawin na session. We are playing it by ear and waiting for the President’s announcement on April 30,” he said.
Meanwhile, Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez is confident that the commitment of the House and the government to solve the crisis will pay off.
“We continue to believe that with hard work, perseverance, and cooperation in the support for our people, we can work our way back to stability and normalcy even as we plan the future according to the lessons we have learned during the most difficult and challenging time,” Romualdez said.
Speaker Cayetano heads the DCC while Romualdez co-heads it.
During the TWG discussions of the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee on Economic Stimulus Package co-headed by Salceda, Rep. Sharon Garin (Party-list, AAMBIS OWA) and Quimbo, focus was given to the Micro, Small to Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) to come up with strategies in response to the effects of the COVID-19 situation.
Garin has recommended to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno to 1) make a special fund to accommodate the MSMEs, 2) make credit line available and flexible and 3) make borrowing as user-friendly as possible.
“What members of the committee are trying to do is to change whatever we need to change to adjust to the new normal. There will be massive layoffs, give them time and subsidy to MSMEs so that they do not let go of their employees and businesses for the next two to three months,” said the lady legislator.
Quimbo pressed on having a legislation that would create a sound economic stimulus plan to set aside subsidies targeting the owners of the MSMEs.
“Our first priority is to help the neediest of the community, particularly the informal sectors and the employees of the small businesses.”
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez lll said that their first priority is to help the neediest of the community, particularly the informal sectors and the employees of the small businesses. But in general, the DOF will definitely assist the banks who assist their clients, Dominguez said.
“The programs are going to be industry-specific. We’ll come up with a loan program that will tailor to the needs by industry,” the finance chief said.
According to LandBank President Cecilia Borromeo, there are more than 5,500 MSMEs in the LandBank portfolio. Most of them are participants in the agri-business chain that borrow for working capital or for expansion or acquisition of additional equipment, Borromeo said.
Salceda proposed to the LandBank and the BSP to condone the outstanding balance of the agrarian reform beneficiaries to give farmers greater flexibility during the COVID-19 situation.
“I would just like to ask you to prepare a position paper so that we can study if there is any legislation that you need so that we can pursue wholesale agrarian reform land acquisition loans, and look for all non-cash expenditure that will add to the vitality of the economy without asking too much from the government,” said the veteran legislator.
For his part, Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte Jr., coming from a rice-producing province, raised that farmers are the most affected during this crisis.
“We have the land, it’s just a matter of utilizing them.”
“It’s about time that we calibrate the rice industry amidst COVID-19. Now is the time to be self-reliant. We have the land, it’s just a matter of utilizing them,” Villafuerte said.
Dominguez then asserted that government should take the opportunity to begin consolidating farmers and managing them as a group. The finance chief explained that under the current situation of small farming, the ideal volume nor the quality of produce is not achieved.
“The Department of Agriculture should start moving towards the idea of commercial farming. What is more important is the use of the land, not the ownership,” the finance head said.
Meanwhile, Diokno noted that the government should prepare to be more agile as it will not be business as usual when the crisis ends. “We should take advantage of this crisis. What would be the new economy? How would it look like?” he said.
With this, Diokno urged that the Philippines should start shifting its dependence on cash to e-banking. He stated that the government should work on accelerating digital transactions in the country.
Committee on Appropriations Chairman Rep. Eric Yap (Party-list, ACT CIS) urged Dominguez to reconsider the resumption of operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to help raise funds for the government during the pandemic.
“Because as we know these days, there are many industries that are closed. Kasi saying din yung income na P500 million to P600 million monthly. Provided yung mga tao i-provide ng shuttle galing bahay, walang mag roam around, lahat mag-follow ng instructions sa ECQ,” Yap said.
Dominguez thanked the legislator for the suggestion and said the matter about the POGO industry will most likely be taken up by the Inter-Agency Task Force in their next meeting.
Also present during the virtual meeting were House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., Deputy Majority Leader Sharky Palma ll, and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and general manager Rolando Macasaet.