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VILLAFUERTE: BALIK PROBINSYA 2 BILL TO CREATE JOBS

Amid reports that many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remain unemployed, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has stressed the urgency for Congress to pass the proposed Balik Probinsya, Balik Pagasa (BP2) law to create jobs outside Metro Manila and help convince displaced OFWs to stay and work in their home provinces or cities.

Villafuerte, author of House Bill (HB) No. 6970, said this measure fast-tracking President Duterte’s BP2 initiative will not only lead to urban decongestion but, more importantly, also stimulate the economy in the regions outside Metro Manila amid the worldwide growth slump touched off by the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.

Villafuerte explained that the BP2 will provides for, among others, a menu of tax breaks and other incentives to entice corporations to relocate to, or expand their businesses in, areas outside the Greater Manila area.

“Until we achieve herd immunity, business and consumer confidence will remain lethargic because people will still think twice about going out and spending their money for fear of the lethal virus. We need to transition at the soonest to investment-driven growth to reinvigorate the economy. This is why we are calling for the quick passage of the Balik Probinsya bill to encourage businesses to shift their investments and create more jobs in the countryside,” Villafuerte said. 

But Villafuerte also said boosting consumer spending is crucial to the country’s recovery as household consumption accounts for 70 percent of the Philippine economy.

To immediately boost household income and stimulate consumer spending, he said the independent majority bloc BTS sa Kongreso, which is headed by former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, is urging the House leadership to incorporate in the proposed law on Bayanihan 3 a cash grant of P10,000 per family, to be given right away and in one release.

Villafuerte said the House should work on, among others, making sure that Filipino families get P10,ooo each in one installment under the proposed third Bayanihan law, to let vulnerable families cope with the economic shock of Covid-19 and, in turn, boost household spending nationwide. 

“Reviving the economy by passing stimulus measures like the BP2 bill should be the primary focus of the Congress instead of the highly divisive and counterproductive Cha-Cha (Charter change) initiative led by Speaker (Lord Allan) Velasco,” Villafuerte said. 

Villafuerte explained that the BP2 will provides for, among others, a menu of tax breaks and other incentives to entice corporations to relocate to, or expand their businesses in, areas outside the Greater Manila area.

He cited reports quoting the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which claimed that 83 percent of repatriated OFWs are still struggling to find new jobs.

Moreover, the IOM said in its study titled “COVID-19 Impact Assessment on Returned Overseas Filipino Workers” that 59% of the workers did not receive separation or compensation pay, while 17% did not get their final salary and 19% reported early contract termination.

Last year, the country’s largest business organization with a membership of 35,000 small, medium and large enterprises nationwide gave its full backing to the President’s BP2 initiative, as it endorsed Villafuerte’s HB 6970 on township revitalization amid the drawn-out coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to President Duterte, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico and former GMA-7 president-CEO Menardo Jimenez, who chairs PCCI’s Balik Probinsya program, said “we all the more must intensify the Balik Probinsya effort,” as it cited “the timeliness and are fully supportive of a bill filed in Congress by (Congressman) Villafuerte, which will provide the basis for ensuring the sustainability of this program.”

Villafuerte has appealed to President Duterte to certify as urgent the nearly year-old Balik Probinsiya measure designed to boost investments, create jobs and drive strong growth outside the metropolis.

Villafuerte has appealed to President Duterte to certify as urgent the nearly year-old Balik Probinsiya measure designed to boost investments, create jobs and drive strong growth outside the metropolis—to finally end the country’s traditional overreliance on Greater Manila as its main engine of economic growth and development.

The Camarines Sur lawmaker said the Palace endorsement of HB 6970, which sets up a national action plan (NAP) for President Duterte’s BP2 program, will complement the recent presidential declaration as urgent measures for congressional approval of three pending bills geared to increase foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to the country.  

These three investor-friendly amendatory measures endorsed as urgent bills by President Duterte are those proposing amendments to the Foreign Investments Act (FIA), Public Service Act (PSA) and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act (RTLA).

Villafuerte, who filed HB 6970 last June, said his Balik Probinsya measure and the three investor-friendly bills—PSA, FIA and RTLA—are actually “complementary” in nature as all four proposals aim to make the Philippines a magnet for investments. 

The former Camarines Sur governor said the House leadership should help accelerate the country’s recovery from the pandemic-induced global economic shock by taking swift action on HB 6970, “instead of squandering the chamber’s time and energy on the counterproductive and highly divisive Charter Change (Cha-Cha) initiative—Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2—being spearheaded by Speaker Velasco.”

Villafuerte agreed with Secretaries Carlos Dominguez III of finance and Ramon Lopez of trade and industry that the amendments to the RTLA, FIA and PSA are “doable” reforms that the Congress can pass this year.

He said the congressional approval of these priority bills make up the faster, more pragmatic route to relaxing economic restrictions on foreign corporations, in lieu of Cha-Cha by way of RHB 2 that appears “dead in the water” anyway in the Senate.

He pointed out that Cha-Cha will not actually bring about immediate reform that could help in the ongoing economic recovery efforts because the current House proposal to ease constitutional restrictions on foreign participation in businesses does not directly empower the Congress to immediately relax investment-related provisions of the 1987 Charter. 

Villafuerte said this is because RHB 2 would ultimately be decided by Filipinos in a plebiscite come May 2022 yet.

As for HB 6970, Villafuerte said this will fast-track the implementation of the President’s BP2 program because it proposes township revitalization programs nationwide in an effort  to finally decongest Metro Manila and create more jobs and self-employment opportunities in rural communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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