Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte wants Congress to give its full backing to the commitment of President Ferdinand Marcos. Jr to stick with, and even expand, the “Build, Build, Build” initiative of the previous administration by authorizing the new government to spend at least P500 billion annually over the next three years on infrastructure projects in such priority areas as Health, Education, Agriculture, Livelihood, Information Technology, and Tourism—or the HEAL IT sectors—that the Chief Executive himself identified in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Villafuerte said a P1.5-trillion economic stimulus package, which he and three other Bicolano legislators have proposed in a measure dubbed the Bayan Bangon Muli (BBM) bill, will “enable the Marcos administration to create millions of jobs, accelerate growth, and help the President hit his target of expanding the economy by 6.5% to 8%, pulling down the poverty incidence to just 9%, and propelling the Philippines to the status of an upper middle-income country during his term.”
Marcos said in his first SONA: “The infrastructure program of the Duterte administration must not only continue but, wherever possible, be expanded. We must keep the momentum. And aspire to build better more.”
The solon pitched the speedy congressional approval of House Bill (HB) No. 271, or the National Economic Stimulus and Recovery Act of 2022, as the President stressed in his first SONA last July 25 that his government would continue and even expand the infrastructure modernization program of his predecessor, former President Duterte, to “build better more.”
“This proposed P1.5-trillion stimulus package will let President BBM sustain and even expand the unmatched high spending on infrastructure development initiated by his predecessor, Mr. Duterte, while focusing such fresh investments on building and improving facilities for the new government’s priority areas that Mr. Marcos had listed in his first SONA, including the HEAL IT sectors of Health, Education, Agriculture, Livelihood, Information Technology (IT) and Tourism,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte, who is vice president for political affairs of the National Unity Party (NUP), was referring to HB 271 that he and fellow Camarines Sur Representatives Miguel Luis Villafuerte and Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata, and Bicol Saro party list Rep. Nicolas Enciso VIII filed at the onset of the 19th Congress.
“HB 271 will let President BBM,” according to Villafuerte, “realize his SONA-declared intent to ‘build better more’ by prioritizing the funding of projects that target infrastructure building down to the barangay level, with the HEAL IT sectors as the focal point of public investments. Our proposed three-year, P1.5-trillion stimulus plan is anchored on the premise that the poor are provided priority employment and income-earning opportunities, particularly in the countryside to accelerate regional growth and boost rural incomes.”
Villafuerte is confident that the Marcos administration can raise enough funds for this proposed P1.5-trillion stimulus and recovery plan, given the assurance by Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno in a post-SONA briefing by the President’s economic team that the improved tax system inherited from the previous Duterte administration would let Malacañang continue and even expand the previous government’s infrastructure program.
“The Duterte administration left this government a sound tax system, a much better tax system than he inherited from the previous administration, and we will enhance that tax system, that will give us more revenues,” Diokno said at the post-SONA economic briefing last July 26.
Villafuerte said HB 271’s spending focus on the HEAL IT sectors is in sync with President Marcos’ announcement in his SONA that among his priority concerns are agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, digitalization, e-governance, and jobs and livelihood opportunities.
He said that Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman in the same post-SONA economic briefing attended by Diokno bared that the Marcos government’s top budget priorities are education, health, social safety nets, infrastructure, and agriculture.
“As directed by the President, we shall continue with the ‘Build, Build, Build,’ and expand it further,” said Pangandaman.
Referring to the past government’s centerpiece initiative “Build, Build, Build,” President Marcos said in his first SONA: “The infrastructure program of the Duterte administration must not only continue but, wherever possible, be expanded. We must keep the momentum. And aspire to build better more.”
“Necessarily, infrastructure development will remain a very high priority in our drive for growth and employment … Infrastructure development spending will be sustained at 5% to 6% of GDP (gross domestic product) … Infrastructure development is of primary importance as it is a necessary element to improve many other sectors—to include agriculture, tourism, general economic activity, and even to governance,” the President added.
In filing HB 271, Villafuerte said he and his co-authors have taken their cue from Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, who said earlier the priority legislation of the 19th Congress will be a Bayan Bangon Muli (BBM) bill patterned after the Bayanihan to Heal as One (Bayanihan 1) and Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) laws that were passed swiftly in 2020 in response to the pandemic.
With Romualdez as House majority leader in the past Congress, Villafuerte was the principal author in the bigger chamber of the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws in 2020 that enabled the then-Duterte administration to access and spend massive public funds on saving Filipinos from the deadly coronavirus and on providing cash aid and other financial assistance to low-income families, displaced workers, distressed entrepreneurs and other sectors severely hurt by the global economic standstill caused by COVID-19.
Villafuerte and his co-authors proposed in HB 271 that the P1.5-trillion stimulus plan be undertaken in conjunction with the “Balik Probinsiya Program,” which was designed to (1) stimulate growth in the countryside through rural infrastructure investments that create plenty of jobs, and (2) ease urban congestion by encouraging jobseekers to stay put in their localities and for workers in urban areas or overseas to return home and work in their provinces.
“Infrastructure shall be the backbone of our economy following the insight of almost all respected economists and recognized policymakers. Therefore, although palliative measures such as cash transfers, unemployment dole-outs, relief, and other forms of immediate amelioration support are undoubtedly necessary now, it is in the interest of the government, the private sector, and the Filipino people at large that a lasting cure for economic resilience be established,” they stressed in the bill.
HB 271 seeks the creation of a Special Fund—to be known as the National Economic Stimulus and Recovery Fund (Recovery Fund)—that shall be disbursed primarily for the implementation of infrastructure projects across the six priority areas under HEAL IT.
Of the proposed P1.5-trillion appropriation for the three-year Recovery Fund, P500 billion shall be released in the first year of this measure’s approval, another P500 billion in the second year, and P500 billion more in the third and final year.
“Infrastructure shall be the backbone of our economy following the insight of almost all respected economists and recognized policymakers.”
The bill’s authors said their proposed three-year economic stimulus plan is similar to pandemic recovery packages rolled out by other countries like the United States (US), member-states of the European Union (EU), South Korea, and Thailand.
Earlier, Villafuerte lauded President Marcos for putting agriculture, health, and tourism on his must-do list in his first SONA of what the government will focus on from hereon to stimulate high growth, improve the lives of Filipinos and keep down economic scarring from the global crisis caused by the pandemic.
Villafuerte said that “putting farm modernization plus productivity, public healthcare and tourism infrastructure, among others, on front and center of the Marcos administration over the medium term will let President BBM achieve his SONA-announced target to raise economic growth to 6.5% to 8% from 2023 to 2028, and his ‘Bayan Bangon Muli’ presidential campaign promise to uplift the lives of all Filipinos.”
“Let us give a big hand to the President for being spot on in his first ever SONA in giving paramount attention to agriculture, health, and tourism,” Villafuerte said, “as revving up these sectors would stimulate high growth, create jobs and raise incomes, especially in the countryside, where a majority of our people remain poor and have been hit hard by the over two-year pandemic. Healthcare is also a must, as improving lives not only means providing Filipinos with better economic and livelihood opportunities but also making them healthy enough to lead long productive lives.”
Villafuerte commended the President for giving priority to public health, following his SONA commitment to building specialty hospitals across the country, similar to those that were built in the national capital region (NCR) during the previous Marcos Sr. administration.
The legislator was referring to the four specialty hospitals in Metro Manila—Philippine Heart Center (PHC), National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), and Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP)—that have for decades been providing quality healthcare, especially to low-income Filipinos.
“Building such specialty hospitals in all regions is a home run for President BBM as this will ensure that ordinary Filipinos outside the national capital will have easier access to quality healthcare that they couldn’t otherwise afford, given the high cost of medical treatment and the lack of superior health facilities in the provinces,” Villafuerte said.
For Villafuerte, the President was correct in also putting a premium on farm modernization and productivity as he couldn’t truly uplift Filipino lives by not paying attention to farmers who make up almost 10 million of the population.
He said Mr. Marcos was right, too, in his SONA in citing the invaluable role of tourism in the worldwide promotion of the Filipino brand, considering its importance not only as an economic development tool but also as a provider of opportunities for employment and job creation in the grassroots.
Moreover, Villafuerte backed the Chief Executive’s directive in his SONA for the Departments of Tourism (DOT) and Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to work together in improving road networks, upgrading airports, and building other tourism infrastructure—in the President’s words—to provide easier access to tourism spots and make it more convenient for travelers to go around the country, even to remote areas to help promote undiscovered tourist spots.