Romualdez: Aid to Pinoys fast-tracked, House to prioritize passage of P370B stimulus package

Martin Romualdez

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on late Tuesday afternoon said Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s leadership would prioritize the passage of at least P370-billion economic stimulus package when Congress resumes session on May 4 to ensure business operations’ continuity and support employment retention as the country fights coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, made the statement following the successful virtual technical working group (TWG) meeting on Tuesday of the House Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC), which he co-chairs where the three economic stimulus cluster co-chairpersons presented their proposals to help local business get back on their feet.

“I think we are really successful in getting the ball rolling here and this is the first of many hearings that the Speaker has mandated the DCC to do with various clusters,” Romualdez, a lawyer and former bank executive, said.

Romualdez responded to a reporter during the meeting who asked if the objectives of the historic and unprecedented two-and-a-half hours videoconferencing via the Zoom application were achieved.

Racing against time and acting on the mandate given by Cayetano, Romualdez said the House of Representatives is committed in advancing all efforts to expedite the process of providing more assistance to the people by holding DCC meetings during congressional break.

"We are already doing everything we can to fast-track so that when we are supposed to resume on May 4, we will hit the ground running," stressed Romualdez, president of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) and Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa).

“With the leadership of the Speaker and with our partners in this endeavor to address the COVID-19, our secretary of Finance (Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez II) and members of the Cabinet are one with the House of Representatives in ensuring that we will be able to meet the urgent needs of the people all the way to business sector with the package that has been envisioned and presented in this hearing,” Romualdez pointed out.

“We are really happy, it’s a good start para kahit break hindi tayo nagmumukmok. Tayo ay nagta-trabaho. Ginagawa natin ang lahat dahil dapat walang magugutom at wala rin dapat na mawawalan ng trabaho,” he stressed.

Last 23 March 2020, Romualdez recalled during the unprecedented and historical special session that Congress passed into law Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” to aid those who suffered most from the pandemic.

The law provides at least P275 billion for the social amelioration program (SAP) of the government where some 18 million low-income households are expected to benefit and provide assistance to medical frontliners.

ADJUSTMENT OF LEGISLATIVE CALENDAR

If President Duterte decides to call an early session ahead of the scheduled May 4 resumption to pass anti-COVID measures, Cayetano said the House of Representatives is prepared to hold another special session, possibly online, similar to the one held last March 23.

Cayetano said Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri had contacted him about possible adjustments of their legislative calendar as an offshoot of COVID-19.

"Two weeks ago, Senator Migz Zubiri, the Majority Leader, already communicated that let's play it by week, kung kaya May 4. But let me assure the public that if ever we move the calendar so that we can be more responsible and practice social distancing... we will tackle that week by week," said Cayetano.

"All of us are grappling what will be the new normal, or do we go back on May 4 or virtual pa rin muna. That's being discussed but let me assure you, whatever is best for the nation, however way we can help," he added.

ECONOMOC STIMULUS PACKAGE

During the meeting, the economic stimulus cluster co-chairpersons, House committee on economic affairs chairperson and AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, House committee on ways and means chairman and Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, and economist and Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo made their respective proposals.

Quimbo, former Commissioner of the Philippine Competition Commission, said she will be sponsoring the “Economy Moving Forward as One Act” to push a P370-billion fiscal stimulus package aimed at addressing the impact of COVID-19 to businesses and employment opportunities.

"Ang layunin ng House bill na ito ay palakasin ang ekonomiya, siguraduhin na walang magsara na negosyo lalo na ang mga maliliit," said Quimbo during her presentation as she underscored the four principles of continuity, compensatory, capacity-building, and proportionality in helping businesses.

"Ang pinakamahalagang layunin [nito] ay para masiguradong walang mawawalan ng trabaho at mababawasan ang kita," said Quimbo, explaining that 29 million out of 41 million workers are affected by the Luzon-wide extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) being implemented by the Duterte administration.

In her proposal, Quimbo said P110 billion will be allocated for wage subsidies under the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), stressing that non-essential businesses that include retail trade, transportation, construction, alcohol production, wholesale trade, and accommodation were affected by the ECQ.

Quimbo said the government needs to provide financial assistance also to the severely affected micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) where 746,980 represent the formal MSMEs while 4.5 million are informal.

The Marikina City lawmaker also said that her proposal also covers P130 billion interest-free loans under the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Small Business Corporation (SBC), and the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC); P10 billion loan guarantees; P119 billion grants to support activities to improve business resilience under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Tourism (DOT); and P1 billion compensation for paid sick leaves of COVID patients under the Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

“[Business firms will receive financial assistance] for purposes of avoiding business closure, restoring business confidence, and ensuring that firms can proceed business-as-usual [after the COVID-19 pandemic],” said Quimbo who also projected that the government may lose P1.08 trillion if the gross domestic product (GDP) declines to a close zero growth from six percent due to COVID-19 crisis.

In her separate presentation, Garin, a former Deputy Speaker, explained the importance of passing a stimulus bill to further mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

“During the ECQ we need to safeguard lives, but after the ECQ we need to safeguard their livelihood. The lifeblood of the economy is employment, without jobs Filipino will not have income, won’t not have food on their table and won’t be healthy members of our society,” said Garin.

Salceda pushed for the creation of a National Emergency Investment Corporation (NEIC) and enhanced Build, Build, Build Program to ensure support for the post-COVID economy.

Under his proposal, Salceda explained that NEIC will take the obligations of firms for loans in exchange for equity.

“I think the President should be given special powers to expedite Build, Build, Build,” said Salceda who explained that the positive returns from BBB Program can be used to fill the gaps of other important concerns like supporting the country’s troubled health care system.

“But nonetheless I think it’s better if we already come up with an integrated and a consolidated version of my proposal and proposal of Stella and the others, of course the proposal of the DoF (Department of Finance) so that we can come up with something that can be a…point for further action by both Congress and the Executive,” said Salceda who will work with

Garin and Quimbo to consolidate their proposals to come up with a very strong and reliable business stimulus package to defeat COVID-19 economic repercussions.