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VILLAFUERTE URGES CONGRESS TO PASS ‘AYUDA’ BILL

A fresh presidential directive for our economic managers to explore ways to possibly funding another round of cash subsidy to families hit hard by the pandemic should prompt the House of Representatives to put the proposed Bangon Pamilyang Pilipino (BPP) program on the front burner  when the Congress resumes session after its Lenten break, according to Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte.

Villafuerte said “a third cash subsidy or ayuda—following the two previous ones given to poor and low-income families last year under the SAP (Social Amelioration Program) of Bayanihan 1 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act)—is imperative at this time to boost household income amid the triple whammy of high unemployment, high hunger rate, and high food prices resulting from the lingering coronavirus pandemic.”

“The House leaderships should put the proposed BPP on the front burner when the Congress reopens after its almost two-month Lenten recess, now that President Duterte himself has tasked his economic managers  to study how to fund another ayuda for the benefit of millions of families reeling from the coronavirus-driven global recession,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte belongs to the independent majority bloc BTS sa Kongreso, which is pushing a  cash subsidy of P10,000 per family under House Bill (HB) No.8597 or the BPP Assistance Program that this group headed by former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano filed last February.  

Both chambers of the Congress adjourned last March 25 for the Legislature’s traditional Lenten break, and will resume session on May 17.

The government has placed the National Capital Region (NCR) along with the four  other neighboring provinces that form part of the so-called “NCR Plus bubble” under the stricter enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for a week until Easter Sunday, as the OCTA Research Group projected the number of coronavirus infections to soar to 12,000 to 13,000 daily this April.

“The proposed BPP could be sourced from these  unutilized and unobligated funds, which are under the 2020 and 2021 GAAs (General Appropriations Acts).”

The Department of Health (DOH) reported that new Covid-19 cases went up to an all-time high of 9,838 before the weekend, surpassing the 2020 record of 6,958 logged last August 10.

Villafuerte issued his statement in response to the reported disclosure by Sen. Bong Go in a radio interview  that President Duterte had directed Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado to study how to raise funds for another ayuda.

The senator reportedly said in the radio interview that this directive was made after President Duterte was troubled by the report by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) during a televised briefing that 3.2 million Filipinos (or 23 percent of the population) in Metro Manila had experienced hunger and that 506,000 were rendered jobless by the lingering pandemic.

Palace Spokesman Harry Roque Jr. also said during a press briefing that Malacañang supports the senator’s proposal on providing aid to poor Filipinos amid the surge in Covid-19 infections.

Before the presidential directive, Villafuerte had said that funds for the proposed BPP  available can likely be sourced from the unutilized appropriations and unobligated funds  in the national budget.

He said the government reported in February that there are around P452 billion in unutilized funds from the 2020 national budget and P204 million in its unobligated cash balance.

Under the proposed BPP, the priority beneficiaries for the P10,000 cash grant are the poorest of the poor, senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), solo parents, displaced workers, medical frontliners, families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), individuals who were not able to secure aid through the SAP under Bayanihan 1, Philippine National ID holders, and members of vulnerable groups. 

Villafuerte said “the proposed BPP could be sourced from these  unutilized and unobligated funds, which are under the 2020 and 2021 GAAs (General Appropriations Acts).“

HB 8597 aims to treat the cash assistance given to qualified families as “capital” that would help stimulate consumption and revitalize the economy. 

“Imagine if we inject P200 billion into the economy now. That would pump-prime it,” said Villafuerte. “That money will circulate and will be used to buy necessities and will be used for livelihoods and businesses as the Covid-19 vaccines start arriving  for our mass immunization program.” 

Villafuerte was one of the authors of Bayanihan 1 and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), along with the laws extending the validity of the 2020 GAA till December 31, 2021, and of Bayanihan 2 till June 30, 2021. 

Under the proposed BPP, the priority beneficiaries for the P10,000 cash grant are the poorest of the poor, senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), solo parents, displaced workers, medical frontliners, families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), individuals who were not able to secure aid through the SAP under Bayanihan 1, Philippine National ID holders, and members of vulnerable groups. 

Villafuerte said  the high unemployment rate and the  rising prices of food and other basic commodities as reflected in the elevated inflation levels underscore the need for Congress to swiftly approve the BPP bill. 

While the government is focused on reviving the economy by providing assistance to banks, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and other businesses, the sectors most vulnerable to the adverse economic impact of the pandemic seems to have been left out, he said. 

“If they do not get the help they need, economically dislocated families might not die from Covid-19 but from hunger,” Villafuerte said. 

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