Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte is pushing for the immediate congressional passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 to arm President Rodrigo Duterte with continued special powers to deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic with the same decisiveness and available resources that had allowed the government to save 1.3 million to 3.5 million Filipinos from the disease since the pandemic started this year.

Villafuerte, who is the lead proponent of House Bill (HB) 6593 or Bayanihan 2 and author of its precursor, Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, made this call as President Duterte sought in his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) the swift congressional approval of Bayanihan 2.

“The Congress needs to arm the President anew with special powers for his government to best deal with the highly infectious and lethal virus that apparently has no intention of going away anytime soon,” Villafuerte said.

He pointed out that the special budgetary powers vested by RA 11469 on the President over the March-June period had enabled the government to realign state funds and allot more resources for social protection initiatives for sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as the over P200 billion emergency subsidies for 18 million poor and low-income households  and the more than P50 billion for displaced workers of small businesses. 

“Our senators could help Filipinos best adapt to the new world order by passing their own versions of these three House-approved measures.”

In support of Duterte’s call in his 5th SONA for the full switch to digital technology in the face of the pandemic, Villafuerte called on senators to give urgent attention to three more House-passed  measures that would let Filipinos best adapt to the “better normal” way of life amid the global health crisis that has sickened  over 78,000 people in the country.

Villafuerte appealed to the Senate to put on its priority list its counterpart measures to HB 6864 prescribing a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to strict mandatory safety and physical distancing protocols, HB 6927 on E-Government and HB 6924 authorizing cash agents to help serve the banking needs of people in faraway villages without banks.

“Our senators could help Filipinos best adapt to the new world order by passing their own versions of these three House-approved measures, more so now when the World Health Organization (WHO) itself is bracing for a protracted pandemic and has called on countries to safeguard against what it called ‘a new and dangerous phase’ of the COVID-19 contagion,” said Villafuerte.

Villafuerte said that these three measures acted upon by the House before the Congress adjourned sine die last June 5 would equip Filipinos to live their lives safely over the next year at the least, when a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 is not expected to be developed yet for commercial production and sale.

“Hence, I am appealing to our senators to put these three measures on top of their concerns when the Second Regular Session of the 18th Congress opens this week, in support of President Duterte’s SONA call for digitization and paperless transactions” said Villafuerte who is the main author of these three bills.

Aside from prescribing the obligatory health and safety protocols like social distancing, frequent hand-washing and use of facial masks in public to avoid COVID-19 infection, Villafuerte said that HB 6864 will clear the way to the  speedy migration of the economy to a digital format, which—as Duterte himself has pointed out—has become  indispensable in the face of the unprecedented global health emergency.

The deputy speaker for finance said the approval by both legislative chambers of HB 6864 would let Filipinos live their lives safely as this substitute bill incorporates other  initiatives necessary in this season of the pandemic, including the fast-track and full  implementation of RA 11055 on the establishment of a  National Identification (ID) System as well as the National Broadband Plan (NBP) of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

He said that once approved by both chambers of the Congress, “this measure will help President Duterte realize his goal of financial inclusion and  improve the speed and efficiency of delivering social mitigation interventions, such as cash grants, to those who need them the most in times of crisis and calamities.”

Villafuerte said HB 6927, meanwhile, will “further improve the ease of doing business while encouraging people to keep practicing physical distancing in the better normal by letting them transact official business without actually having to go to the various government agencies themselves.” 

HB 6864 will clear the way to the  speedy migration of the economy to a digital format.

HB 6927 proposes, he said, the “technical and informational interoperability of the ICT systems of all government offices through the Internet-based E-Government System, to clear the way to the further improvement of the ease of doing business  in the country” amid the pandemic.

Moreover, Villafuerte said HB 6924 or the ‘Bangko sa Baryo Act” will empower the chosen “authorized cash agents” (ACAs) to assist in performing a broad range of bank services, including forwarding account opening applications, cash-in and cash-out services, and initial customer identity verification, in remote barangays without banks.

Villafuerte, who is co-chairman of the social amelioration cluster of the Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC) chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, said that HB 1297, HB 6927 and the implementation of RA 11055 or the National ID Project, which Villafuerte also co-authored, form part of a reform package designed to let the Duterte administration upgrade the delivery of its future social amelioration programs (SAPs)—and avoid a repeat of the hitches that had mired the initial release of cash subsidies to poor and low-income families.

He said the Congress needs to pass the “Bangko sa Baryo” bill, so the government could download its future SAP subsidies, if any, to the intended family-beneficiaries not only through the accredited banks, remittance centers and pay platforms like GCash and PayMaya, but also through the bill-proposed ACAs that the Bangkok Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and contracting banks are to tap to serve the banking needs of people in distant villages.

Villafuerte was author of five of the priority bills endorsed by Duterte in the previous SONA,  namely: RA 11467 that increased and restructured the excise taxes on alcohol products as well as heated tobacco and vapor products; RA 11463 establishing Malasakit Centers in Department of Health (DOH) hospitals and the Philippine General Hospital (PGH); RA 11470 creating the National Academy of Sports (NAS); RA 11462 postponing the May 2020 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections to December 2022; and RA 11466 modifying the salary schedule for civilian government personnel and authorizing the grant of additional benefits.

To further help the Duterte administration deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Villafuerte had likewise authored with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and 240 solons HB 6920 or the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act, providing a three-year, P1.5-trillion accelerated spending on health, education, agriculture, local roads, livelihood, information and communication technology or ICT and tourism (HEAL IT) infrastructure.

He had also introduced proposed legislation on measures similarly endorsed by President Duterte, namely the House-approved HB 5832 creating the  Department of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) along with HB 6970 on the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa” Program, and HB 5989  establishing the Department of Disaster Resilience.


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