House set to ratify 'Babangon tayo fund'

Martin Romualdez

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez yesterday said the House of Representatives will ratify tomorrow the P165.5 billion “Babangon Tayo Fund” or the stimulus package to quell the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic, including the P5.58 billion subsidy for jeepney and other public utility drivers, hiring of 50,000 contact tracers among other purposes.

“This (Babangon Tayo Fund) is our top priority in our session next week. We are going to ratify the P165.5 billion allocations to help President Rodrigo Duterte eliminate COVID-19. This is another major step to our roadmap for economic recovery and save jobs,” said Romualdez, the chairman of the powerful House committee on rules after the bicameral conference committee finalized last Thursday the final version of the measure and ratified by the Senate on the same day.

Romualdez President of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) and Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said the P140-billion of the P165.5 billion has available funds while the remaining P25.5 billion will be rolled out when the government finds the revenue for it, including the P10 billion for COVID-19 vaccines.

To accelerate the rehabilitation and recovery of businesses and industries, the final version of Babangon Tayo Fund has set aside the biggest share of the proposed P165-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.

He said the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill or Bayanihan 2 is extending the emergency powers granted to President Duterte under Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which lapsed on June 5.

Once signed into law by President Duterte, he will have the emergency powers extended until December 19, the adjournment of Congress for Christmas break.

Before the bicameral conference committee approval, the House version under House Bill (HB) No. 6953 provides for P162 billion standby fund valid until end-2020 while the Senate version sets a smaller budget of P140 billion because the Department of Finance (DOF) cannot fund anything beyond that.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte echoed Romualdez’s statement that the House is set to ratify this Monday the final version of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 that will again vest special powers in President Duterte to undertake the necessary and proper response measures to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 and accelerate the recovery of the domestic economy.

“The House is set to ratify on Monday next week Bayanihan 2, the final version of which was wrapped up Thursday after three days of marathon sessions by the bicam (bicameral conference) panel,” said Villafuerte, who heads the chamber’s contingent to this joint committee tasked to hammer out the consolidated version of the sequel to Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“There were several contentious provisions that stalled final approval but at the end, everything was resolved because of the desire of both chambers to act and pass swiftly this measure that the people and businesses urgently need,” Villafuerte said.

“It was difficult and tough to accommodate all the critically impacted sectors with the limited amount we were working on,” he added. “We finally agreed to approve the amount of P165 billion, which we all felt was not enough but which was available right now,” Villafuerte stressed.

Villafuerte, who was the lead author in the House of both Bayanihan 1 and 2, said the bicam panel came up with the consolidated version of Bayanihan 2 that provides for a stimulus package worth P165 billion—or higher than the funding in both the Senate and House versions—“in an effort to accommodate all COVID-battered sectors that have sought immediate government assistance in the face of the likely protracted battle with the coronavirus pandemic.”

“We are hoping the P165-billion outlay set in this consolidated version that will be ratified by both chambers of the Congress would just be an initial stimulus package, given the huge amount that we legislators in the House believe is needed to spell a strong and early recovery for the sectors reeling from the global economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic,” Villafuerte said.

He expressed the hope that “Malacañang would be able to raise more resources in the months ahead to fund further stimulus packages needed for an early and strong economic rebound,” particularly the House-approved proposals on the P1.5-trillion COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act (CURES) and P1.3-trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy Act (ARISE) that both call for aggressive spending on measures to energize the economy and ease the pandemic’s impact on its worst-hit sectors.

MAJOR PROGRAMS

Under the Babangon Tayo Fund, some of the major programs to be funded by the readily available P140 billion include:

#P13.5 for the following health-related items: continuous employment of existing emergency human resources for health; augmentation for operations of Department of Health (DoH) hospitals; special risk allowance for all public and private health workers directly catering to or in contact with COVID-19 patients for every month that they are serving during the state of national emergency as declared by the President; actual hazard pay for all health workers serving in the frontline during the state of national emergency; life insurance, accommodation, transportation, and meals for health workers; and compensation to public and private health workers who may contract COVID-19.

#P3 billion for the procurement of face masks, shoe covers, face shields, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for all local health workers, barangay officials, and other indigent persons and the preferred manufacturers are local PPE makers.

#P4.5 billion to finance the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, field hospitals, dormitories for frontliners, and the expansion of government hospital capacity nationwide.

#P13 billion for the implementation of the following: for cash-for-work for displaced workers as may be necessary in the management of or response to COVID-19 pandemic, such as but not limited to TUPAD, CAMP and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)-AKAP for OWFs and unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers or employees, such as those in private health institutions, culture and arts, creative industry including, but not limited to, film and audiovisual workers construction, public transportation, and trade and industries, cooperatives, and other sectors of the economy as may be identified by DoLE.

#P39.5 billion for the infusion of capital to government financial institutions (GFI) to be allocated as follows: P5 billion for the credit guarantee program of the PhilGuarantee; P18.4 billion to support wholesale banking and equity infusion of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) for low interest loans to be extended to persons and entities engaged in industries affected by COVID-19 pandemic; P6 billion to support wholesale banking and equity infusion of the Development Bank of the Philippines for low interest loans; and P10 billion as additional funding for the COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) program of the Small Business Corporation (SBCorp) of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), as well as interest subsidy, to be extended to MSMEs, cooperatives, hospitals, tourism industry, and OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and by other socio-economic reversals.

#P24 billion to provide direct cash or loan interest rate subsidies under the programs of Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Credit Policy Council (DA-ACPC) and other forms of assistance to qualified agri-fishery enterprises, farmers and fisherfolk registered under the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA), and agriculture cooperatives to finance the  “Plant, Plant, Plant” program to ensure food security and continuous productivity in the agricultural sector, including accessibility through farm to market roads.