House set to approve Bayanihan 2 this week

 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).