Camarines Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte has called on Congress to do its part in stemming the continuous hemorrhage of jobs in the country by helping Malacañang fast-track the implementation of President Duterte’s Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pagasa (BP2) initiative designed to supercharge growth and create a lot of livelihood opportunities outside Metro Manila amid the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.

Villafuerte said the proposed BP2 law will not only lead to urban decongestion but, more importantly, will also give the badly-needed boost to economies in the regions outside the metropolis amid the worldwide growth slump touched off by this once-in-a-century health and economic crises.

Villafuerte explained that the BP2 will provide 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.

“The BP2 measure is a long-term solution to revitalize the economies in the provinces and create jobs for the ever growing Filipino workforce, including our dislocated migrant workers who have returned home and remain unemployed because of the pandemic,” Villafuerte, a former governor, said. 

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the number of unemployed Filipinos stood at 4.14 million in April, bringing the unemployment rate to 8.7%, which is higher than the 3.44 million jobless Filipinos and the 7.1% unemployment rate reported in March.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), meanwhile, said that based on its latest Job Displacement Monitoring Report, a total of 1,148,996 workers have been displaced from January 1 to May 30, 2021.

DOLE also reported that more than 564,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been repatriated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

A Social Weather Stations survey showed joblessness fell slightly among the 18-to-34-year-olds, from 57.2 percent in November 2020 to 55.5 percent in May 2021. It rose slightly among the 35-to-44-year-olds buth hardly changed among those 45 years old and above.

It fell slightly among graduates and non-graduates of elementary schools.

It hardly changed among junior high school graduates, from 30.8 percent in November 2020 to 30 percent in May 2021. It barely moved among college graduates.

Villafuerte explained that the BP2 will provide 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.

“The previous high Covid-10 caseloads in Metro Manila and the current spike in other urban hubs outside the national capital reflect the dark side of urban congestion. Fast-tracking the implementation of BP2 will help decongest highly populated urban centers,” Villafuerte said.

Last year, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) gave its full backing to Villafuerte’s House Bill (HB) No. 6970 on the BP2 initiative.

However, although the BP2 bill is the long-term solution to ease unemployment, Villafuerte said the immediate response to provide aid to jobless and low-income families is the proposed Ayuda law that aims to provide a cash grant of P10,000 per household, to be given right away and in one release only, Villafuerte said.

Until such time that business and consumer confidence is restored to pre-pandemic levels, he said boosting household spending is crucial to the country’s recovery as domestic consumption accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

“This measure, popularly known as the 10K Ayuda bill, will let vulnerable families cope with the economic shock of Covid-19 amid the loss of jobs and incomes and, in turn, boost household spending or consumption, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the Philippine economy,” Villafuerte said. 

Villafuerte earlier raised the possibility of reviving the “10K Ayuda” bill, even if it was already consolidated and substituted with the proposed third Bayanihan law, now that this P401-billion stimulus package could end up gathering dust in the legislature after both Malacañang and the Senate expressed a lack of interest in supporting the half-baked measure passed recently by the House of Representatives.

He said that discussions on the 10K Ayuda bill, which was authored by former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Villafuerte and the other members of the independent majority bloc BTS sa Kongreso, could be reopened at the committee level when the 18th Congress reopens for its third and final session next month after President Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Last year, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) gave its full backing to Villafuerte’s House Bill (HB) No. 6970 on the BP2 initiative.

The Ayuda measure, originally HB 8597, was consolidated and substituted with HB 9411—the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act or Bayanihan 3—which was approved on third and final reading by the House of Representatives last June 1 before the Legislature’s sine die adjournment.

With the House-approved Bayanihan 3 seemingly as “dead in the water” as Resolution of Both House (RBH) No. 2 that was similarly passed by the House before the congressional adjournment, Villafuerte said “the fastest way for the Congress to provide immediate relief in the form of disposable income to pandemic-hit Filipino families is by passing the Ayuda bill as a separate measure while Bayanihan 3 could be gathering dust in the Legislature.”

The lead author in the House of both Bayanihan 2 and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1), Villafuerte said the House needs to thoroughly discuss the Ayuda bill with the President’s economic team to ensure adequate sources of funding for the measure, and also with senators to work out a version that would eventually win Senate approval. 

As for HB 6970, Villafuerte said: “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.”

“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 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.

He said HB 6970 will fast-track the implementation of the 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. 

He said the Palace endorsement of HB 6970, which sets up a national action plan (NAP) for the 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. 

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. 



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