House, Palace to save lives, economy

THE leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is in “close partnership” with the Executive Department in crafting measures “to save lives and save the economy” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened over 5,000 people and killed more than 300 in the country.

During Tuesday’s virtual session of the House’ Defeat Covid-19 Committee (DCC) presided by co-chairman and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez of Leyte, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte at the same reiterated his proposal for the Duterte administration to reboot its “Build, Build, Build” program as the best way to jumpstart the economy during the extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period in Luzon and similar containment measures in other parts of the country to prevent further community transmission of the highly infectious virus.

“We would like to assure the people that their Congress is here to help,” Villafuerte, who co-chairs the DCC subcommittee on social amelioration, said during the DCC meeting. “We understand the problems. We are your representatives in the various districts. We know the problems.”

“Basically, what we would like to assure the people is that their Congress is here to help,” he said. “The Congress is here to partner with the executive branch to solve the problems arising from this pandemic. Not only do we want to save lives … but of course, we also want to save the economy. So, basically, we are here, and we will respond to the needs.”

Villafuerte is lead author in the House of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee that is monitoring the implementation of this new law that empowered President Duterte to reallocate and realign budget and off-budget items to help finance the government’s anti-Covid-19 response efforts.

Responding to a media query about a proposal to give up big-ticket infrastructure projects amid the current health crisis, Villafuerte said it is actually crucial for the Duterte administration to restart its “Build, Build, Build” program during the extended ECQ because infrastructure investments have the highest multiplier effects on the economy, including the creation of jobs.

“Infrastructure is really the fuel that will drive our economy back on its feet,” said Villafuerte, who earlier proposed the adoption of a modified extended ECQ that will prime the economy for a quick recovery by restarting certain businesses and rebooting “Build, Build, Build” during this quarantine period. “Infrastructure development is integral to the bounce-back plan for the economy.”

In keeping with the House leadership’s commitment, Villafuerte has backed a government program to provide wage subsidies for two months to around 3.4 million employees in small businesses suffering from the ECQ-induced economic standstill.

After providing economic relief in the form of cash grants to some 18 million poor households, Villafuerte said the government is on the right track in following this up with wage subsidies for those belonging to the lower and medium middle class whose salaries are just enough for them to meet their daily needs and those of their families.

“President Duterte is right to approve the recommendation of the Department of Finance (DoF) under Secretary Sonny Dominguez to throw a lifeline to workers employed in small business enterprises. These are the workers whose employers have been left with no means to cover their overhead costs following the implementation of the ECQ that has led to the sudden stop of economic activity," said Villafuerte.

Villafuerte, an entrepreneur before entering electoral politics in 2004, noted that even if employers of small businesses would want to pay the wages of their workers, most of them are constrained by their lack of resources to do so, given that they need to attend to rental dues, amortizations, and other capital expenses they still have to pay once the ECQ is over.

Payments for such business-related expenses have been put on hold by the government only for the duration of the ECQ.

“Operators of small businesses earn nothing during the ECQ because they have been forced to close shop or are operating only with skeletal forces.

They have no cash to pay their workers even if they want to. Hence, government intervention is necessary to rescue these businesses and let their workers survive,” he said.

“The employees that the government is helping under this rescue plan for small businesses are not those in the upper middle class who can afford to stay home without earning any income for the duration of the ECQ. We are referring here to employees in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who earn just enough and are probably able to save a little for their needs and those of their families. These are the ones who need the government's immediate help,” Villafuerte said.

MSMEs, which comprise 98 percent of all businesses in the country, employ the majority of the Filipino work force.

Under the wage subsidy program, eligible workers will receive from P5,000 to P8,000 a month for two months, depending on where they are employed.

Some 2.6 million workers registered with the Social Security System (SSS) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) will comprise the initial batch of beneficiaries, followed by the remaining 800,000 workers who are unregistered, according to the DoF.