Proposed recovery roadmap budget hiked

MEMBERS of the bicameral conference committee on the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act have agreed to raise the ceiling of the coronavirus economic recovery roadmap to P166.527-billion and granted the proposed authority for the local government units (LGUs) to realign, reallocate, or augment its local funds to defeat coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Wee Palma II, a member of the bicameral panel, is confident the latest amount could be the final version of the measure.

Palma, who was acknowledged by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano as the workhorse of the House plenary, said the LGUs’ power to realign covers calamity funds, Special Education Funds (SEF), Gender and Development (GAD) funds, just to name a few.

“This will allow the LGUs to call the shots for themselves. Sila ang mas nakakaalam ng sitwasyon nila. For example, this will allow them to construct or repurpose facilities that will serve as isolation rooms for incoming LSIs (locally-stranded individuals). These may be set up in each of their barangays. This will help eliminate the problems that were caused by the convergence of people in huge quarantine facilities,” Palma explained.

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.

But Palma said P140 billion of the P166.527 billion has available funds while the remaining P26.527-billion will still be sourced by the Deoartment of Finance.

“The P20 billion-plus will act as standby appropriation. It will be up to the DOF to look for these funds. As lawmakers, our job only is to appropriate,” Palma said.

“Everything is still fluid and any amount may still change (under the P166.527-billion ceiling),” said Palma. 

According to him, congressmen and senators who are members of the bicameral panel have approved appropriations for testing, procurement of masks for the public and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers

At the same time, Palma said funding requirements for the construction of isolation facilities, emergency employment of health workers, subsidy for the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), cash-for-work program, support programs for impacted sectors including transportation, subsidies and allowances for students and teachers and for national athletes and coaches are also approved.

The Deputy Majority Leader said that the bicameral panel also agreed to allocate funds for capital infusion to government banks, subsidy for agriculture, assistance to the tourism industry (tour guide trainings and subsistence), development of smart campuses, scholarship funds for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), implementation of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) digital education, hiring of additional teaching personnel, hiring of contact-tracers, assistance to local government units (LGUs), and computer-based application/renewal of licenses from the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC).