B2 strengthens LGUs’ war against COVID

DEPUTY Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte on Sunday said the proposed Babangon Tayo Fund or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act that the House of Representatives is set to ratify this Monday contains features that aim to strengthen the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) response capabilities of local government units (LGUs) and hasten the recovery of businesses hit hard by the coronavirus-induced global economic crisis.

The Senate already ratified last Thursday the final version of this measure, also known as the Bayanihan 2 bill.

The House ratification this week will clear the way to the enrolled bill's submission to Malacañang for President's Duterte's signature in time for its possible enactment into law by September, Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said the Congress-approved Bayanihan 2 bill, which adopted most of the provisions of the House version, will also sustain the national government's Covid-19 response efforts, compensation arrangements for health workers and social mitigation programs for low-income families,  as well as introduce financial assistance packages for students, teachers and displaced workers.

"Almost 40 key provisions in the House version of the Bayanihan 2 bill were approved by the bicam (bicameral conference) committee that reconciled last week the Senate and House versions of the measure," Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte chaired the House panel in the bicam panel that hammered out the consolidated version of the sequel to Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that the Congress wrote in March.

The Camarines Sur lawmaker was lead author in the chamber of both RA 11469 and the Bayanihan 2 bill.

Villafuerte said among some 40 major provisions of the House version that were adopted by the bicam panel included the measures to beef up the country's COVID-19 contact-tracing capacity, strengthen the capacity of LGUs to realign funds for their respective coronavirus response efforts, and help pandemic-hit businesses recover from the crisis.

“We thank all the members of the House panel who worked hard to provide valuable inputs and wisdom to hammer out the final version of this measure," Villafuerte said.  "It was difficult and tough to accommodate all the critically impacted sectors with the limited amount we were working on. We finally agreed to approve the amount of
P165.5 billion, which we all felt was not enough but which was what was available right now.”

To accelerate the rehabilitation and recovery of COVID-hit businesses and industries, Villafuerte said “the final Bayanihan 2 bill has set aside the biggest share of the proposed P165.5-billion budget for soft loans to badly-hit groups such as micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs), transport, tourism and agriculture sectors to help them get back on their feet at the soonest.”

Such soft loans would be coursed through government financial institutions (GFIs), namely, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Philippine Guarantee Corporation (PHILGUARANTEE) and the Small Business Corp. (SBC), for the affected sectors seeking government support.

However, he said, “we in the bicam panel have agreed that this amount will be made available as loans to all the affected sectors instead of specific amounts or portions being earmarked for certain sectors as originally sought by some groups.”

Among the provisions in the House version that were adopted by the bicam committee were the retroactive payment of the P100,000 hazard duty pay for health workers effective February 2020 and P1 million compensation for the heirs of health workers in case of their death from COVID-19.

The bicam panel also adopted the House proposal on authorizing LGUs to realign funds for their respective COVID-19 response programs; the use of the unutilized Municipal Development Fund (MDF) for the national government's pandemic response efforts; and the creation of a national online electronic application system accessible to everyone in each LGU to provide contact-tracing.

Also included in the final version were the provisions in the House bill that provided a 60-day grace period on the payment of loans; the exemptions from the payment of the documentary stamp tax (DST) for loan term extensions or restructured loans; and the two-year exemption from compulsory notification for mergers and acquisitions with
transaction values below P50 billion and one-year exemption from motu proprio investigations.

The other major provisions in the House version that were adopted in the final Bayanihan 2 measure include those:

• mandating the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to reinstate and proceed with the implementation of discontinued infrastructure programs;

• providing the President with the authority to reprogram and realign funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPEs), and establish isolation facilities, field hospitals, vaccines, testing and subsidies for Covid-19 positive patients;

• setting up guidelines on the establishment of private isolation and quarantine facilities of private enterprises;

• directing the discontinuance of unutilized automatic appropriations for debt service to allow more liquidity;

• removing  the initial public offering (IPO) tax;

• exempting PPEs from import duties, and which will be determined by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), provided local preference is ensured;

• using the unutilized or unreleased balance in special purpose funds for Covid-19 response;

• establishing priority lending  for MSMEs, cooperatives, hospitals, tourism industry and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) through GFIs; and

• authorizing the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to distribute food and non-food items, and extend livelihood grants and supplemental feeding for daycare children through the DSWD's various programs, including its Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS).