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VILLAFUERTE: HOUSE TO GIVE FINAL OK ON BAYANIHAN 2 THIS WEEK

The House of Representatives is set to approve on third and final reading this week the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, with the hope that Congress will have provided President Rodrigo Duterte by September with special powers anew to best deal with the apparently protracted global health and economic crisis spawned by the coronavirus pandemic, Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte said over the weekend.

The leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano expects House Bill (HB) No. 6953 or the Bayanihan 2 Act, to breeze through final approval after the leaders of the different political parties and party list groups in the chamber signed a Manifesto of Unity committing its plenary passage at the soonest time possible, said Villafuerte, the measure’s lead author in the House.

“In reality, P162 billion is not enough.”

“Bayanihan 2 will give continued special powers to the President to beat the pandemic, which, according to the WHO (World Health Organization), has reached a ‘dangerous’ stage of accelerated spread as governments across the world start relaxing mobility restrictions and reopening their economies,” said Villafuerte when he sponsored the bill on the floor last Aug. 5. 

Villafuerte was also lead author in the House of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which first gave special powers to the President in March to beef up his government’s COVID-19 response.

He also co-chairs the social amelioration cluster of the House’s Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC) chaired by Cayetano and co-chaired by House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.

HB 6953 provides for P162 billion in funding for the government’s COVID-19 response measures, including some P10.5 billion to enable the hiring of additional healthcare workers, and provide additional allowances and benefits to medical frontliners, Villafuerte noted. 

The Senate has already approved its version of the Bayanihan 2 with a smaller budget of P140 billion. 

Following the House’s final approval of HB 6953, both chambers could then hold bicameral conference committee (bicam) negotiations to hammer out a consolidated version of Bayanihan 2 for submission to President Duterte, hopefully by September or earlier, Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte, who is deputy speaker for finance and who represents Camarines Sur’s second district, said the bicam panel on the bill will be scheduled immediately to reconcile the different versions of the House and Senate. 

“In reality, P162 billion is not enough. In fact, the Senate passed P140 billion … This body feels the national government can afford P162 billion—that’s why we’re passing it,” said Villafuerte.

A member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) that monitored Malacañang’s implementation of RA 11469, Villafuerte said the swift action of the House on Bayanihan 2 was in response to the President’s appeal in his State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) to have the measure passed immediately so the government could continue to effectively address the international health emergency and economic fallout arising from the pandemic. 

He said there is likewise a P10-billion subsidy for the National Health Insurance Program of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to cover the COVID-19 expanding test program and to fund the confinement of infected patients.

HB 6953 provides, too, for life insurance; compensation benefit of P100,000 to healthcare workers infected with COVID-19; and compensation of P1 million to the family of each frontliner who dies from the illness, he added.

“We can call this Stimulus 1 but we will definitely need Stimulus 2 and Stimulus 3.”

Villafuerte said the measure also provides additional funding for the purchase of protective personal equipment (PPEs), and construction of quarantine and isolation facilities. 

The House version also includes funds for the implementation of cash-for-work programs, new capital for government financial institutions (GFIs) to expand their provision of credit to pandemic-hit businesses, low-interest credit facilities for the agriculture sector, and assistance to the transportation and tourism industries, Villafuerte said. 

Education is also a major beneficiary of Bayanihan 2, which includes the provision of subsidies for educational institutions, teachers and students and funds to procure digital tools for online learning. 

HB 6953 also covers assistance for local government units (LGUs), overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), national athletes and coaches, and individuals in crisis situations, Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said the next step after the enactment of Bayanihan 2 is to “work closely with the government to raise revenues” so it could sufficiently bankroll COVID-19 response.

Villafuerte described Bayanihan 2 as a “stop-gap measure,” as he considers it inadequate to prepare the economy for recovery.

“We can call this Stimulus 1 but we will definitely need Stimulus 2 and Stimulus 3,” Villafuerte said, more so now when the World Health Organization (WHO) itself said earlier there will be no return to the “old normal” for the forseeable future, as the world is now in “a new and dangerous phase” with countries starting to reopen their societies and economies even as the virus is “still spreading fast, it’s still deadly, and most people are still susceptible.” 

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