‘Kaligtasan, Kabuhayan, Kaunlaran’.
HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Saturday said the bicam-approved P165.5 billion “Babangon Tayo Fund” or the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) roadmap for economic recovery is focused on Filipinos’ “Kaligtasan, Kabuhayan, at Kaunlaran.”
Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, stressed this during Saturday’s morning (Philippine time) Zoom Open Forum on “The Philippine Economy: Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic sponsored by Upsilon Sigma Phi North America.
“As I see it, our mission in the age of this pandemic is threefold. First, to save precious human lives and minimize the number of those infected by the virus. Second, to spare the Filipino nation from hunger and poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Third, to ramp up budgetary measures needed to fully implement a responsive and sustainable recovery plan, while ramping up national testing capacity. In short: Kaligtasan, Kabuhayan, at Kaunlaran,” Romualdez stressed during the Zoom Open Forum.
“My brothers, friends, ladies and gentlemen: a pleasant morning to all of us here in the Philippines. Good evening, too, to those logged in from Northern America. Truly, it warms the heart to see all of you gathered here today, still hale and hearty, despite the health crisis now plaguing the globe. From the outset, let me congratulate the organizers of this open forum as our gathering today comes at a more opportune time. As brothers, it is incumbent upon us to sit down together and discuss the problems that plague our nation,” added Romualdez, Upsilon President.
“Saan man tayo naroroon, obligasyon nating tumulong sa paghahanap ng solusyon sa mga problema ng ating bayan. As Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, I am honored to provide you with a glimpse of what we have accomplished so far in the 18th Congress to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 disease and to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic for the Filipino people,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez, President of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) and Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said the P140-billion of the P165.5 billion Babangon Tayo Fund 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.
The bicameral conference committee finalized last Thursday the final version of the Babangon Tayo Fund and ratified by the Senate on the same day.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to ratify the Babangon Tayo Fund this Monday.
Citing opinions from the Duterte administration’s economic team, Romualdez said lawmakers allocated the Babangon Tayo Fund to programs that the country needed it most to address the COVID-19.
“Given the budget limitations, we deemed it wise to allocate our scarce resources to where they matter the most,” Romualdez said. “Multilateral lenders and the bond market are not considered new sources of revenue. The Constitution states that for special appropriations, funds have to actually be available. They must be certified by the Bureau of Treasury and raised through a corresponding revenue source.”
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.
Romualdez said the Babangon Fund or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill (Bayanihan 2) is extending the emergency powers granted to President Duterte under Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469, 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) 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.
Under the Babangon Tayo Fund, Romualdez said 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.
#9.5 billion to finance the following programs of the Department of Transportation (DOTr): P2.6 billion to assist the critically-impacted businesses in the transportation industry; P5.6 billion to provide temporary livelihood to displaced workers in the industry through service contracting, regardless of quarantine levels, of public utility vehicles; as provided in this Act, as follows: P3 billion for public utility jeepney drivers, P2.58 billion for drivers of other public utility drivers; and P1.316 billion to develop accessible sidewalks and protected bicycle lanes, procurement of bicycles and related safety equipment for bicycle distribution, sharing and lending programs and procurement of bicycle racks.
#P300 million for subsidies and allowances of displaced teaching and non-teaching personnel, including part-time faculty, in private and public elementary, secondary, and tertiary education institutions, including part-time faculty in state universities and colleges (SUCs).
Romualdez said the bill also features the following: the amount of P5,000 to P8,000 will be given to displaced workers, including freelancers, the self-employed, and repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs); aside from hazard pay, for public and private healthcare workers will receive special risk allowances; cash subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 will be extended to low-income households under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), and to households with recently-returned OFWs; health workers infected by the disease will get P15,000 while P100,000 for a severe case and P1 million for families of healthcare workers who die of COVID-19; the displaced public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers will get P5.6 billion assistance, of which P3 billion for jeepney drivers; there is a P10 billion in standby fund for testing and procuring COVID-19 medication and vaccines; P5 billion for the hiring of 50,000 contact tracers; the proposal also provides for a 60-day grace period for the payment of all existing, current, and outstanding loans falling due on or before December 31, 2020; a minimum grace period of 30-days will be given to residential and commercial rents of lessees not permitted to work during the pandemic;
also a minimum 30-day grace period for the payment of utility bills (electricity, water, etc) falling due within the period of ECQ or modified ECQ; the bill also suspended the permits to build telecommunication towers, except for the building permit for three years; condonation of pending payments of interest, penalties, and surcharges for agrarian reform loans, with the restructuring of the remaining original principal without interest; the P10 billion originally allocated for the tourism sector has been distributed as follows: P6 billion for tourism micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); and P3 billion for displaced tourism workers; and P1billion for tourism infrastructure under Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
On March 23, Romualdez recalled that the House of Representatives acted with sense of urgency and approved in a Special Session the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Bill, which granted President Duterte the additional authority to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines.
“The law empowered the national government and local government units to respond to the crisis, enabling us to slow down the rate of infection and spare our people from starvation caused by community quarantines,” Romualdez explained.
But despite the Duterte administration’s gallant stand against COVID-19, Romualdez said the global health crisis continued to wreak havoc on people's health and halted the country's momentum towards stable economic growth.
“The number of COVID cases continued to rise, some business establishments resorted to closure, and millions of Filipinos face the threat of unemployment,” Romualdez lamented.
Given the country’s dire situation, Romualdez said President Duterte appealed to Congress in his latest State of the Nation Address (SOBNA) to pass a second version of the “Bayanihan Law” to halt the spread of the COVID disease and speed up the country's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“In response to the President's call, the House of Representatives and the Senate approved separately their own versions of Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill,” said Romualdez.