THE House of Representatives is set to approve on third and final reading this coming week the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, with the hope that the Congress will have provided President Rodrigo “Rody” 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 and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said over the weekend.
The leadership under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano expects House Bill (HB) 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.
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 and Leyte Rep. 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.
Among the components of the P162-billion Bayanihan 2 are P10 billion for COVID-19 expanded testing and treatment of patients; P10.5 billing for the Department Health (DoH) for additional personnel and benefits, and fund augmentation to hospitals; P3 billion for face masks and other personal protective equipment items; P4 billion for temporary isolation and quarantine facilities; and P20 billion for cash-for-work for displaced workers; P51 billion to help micro, small and medium businesses.
The bill also includes P20 billion for cash or interest subsidies for farmers, P10 billion for the transportation industry; P10 billion for the tourism sector; P3 billion for state universities and colleges; P600 million for subsidies and allowances to qualified students of public and private tertiary schools; P300 million as subsidies to affected teaching and non-teaching personnel of public and private schools; P12 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), PhP4 billion for the Department of Education (DepEd); PhP1.5 billion for local government units; and P820 million for the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).