Romualdez: Bangon fund to help beat COVID

Martin Romualdez
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Tuesday said he is hoping the newly-ratified P165.5 billion “Babangon Tayo Fund” or the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) roadmap for economic recovery will give an initial life-restoring boost to the country’s economy.

“The Babangon Fund is focused on Kaligtasan, Kabuhayan, at Kaunlaran of Filipinos. This will help strengthen the government’s COVID-19 response capabilities and hasten the rehabilitation and recovery of businesses and industries affected by pandemic,” said Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules.

“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,” explained Romualdez, President of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) and Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), explained.

As of press time, Romualdez said Congress is rushing the Palace transmittal of the enrolled bill or the final version of the “Babangon Tayo Fund”, also known as Bayanihan to Recover as One Act 2 for President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte’s signature.

“We expect the enactment into law of this measure by September,” said Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, on the measure where the bicameral conference committee adopted last week the 40 key provisions in the House version of the Babangon Fund.

Romualdez said Babangon Tayo Fund has provisions that would allow the chamber to scrutinize the strict implementation of programs related to COVID-19 response and emergency subsidy to cash strapped individuals.

This time, however, Romualdez said Congress is mandated that the "vetting and validation of beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), and the related liquidation report thereto shall be simplified to expedite the distribution of the subsidy."

Romualdez also noted that the law now mandates all government agencies concerned to submit to Congress a definitive and actual list of SAP beneficiaries.

Citing opinions from the Duterte administration’s economic team, Romualdez said lawmakers allocated the Babangon Tayo Fund to programs that the country needs 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,” said Romualdez.

Romualdez 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.

TASK FOR AGAINST COVID-19 THANKS CONGRESS LEADERS

The National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 on expressed its gratitude to both houses of Congress, especially to Romualdez, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymond Villafuerte Jr., Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri for ratifying the bicameral committee report on the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act and recognizing the urgent need to implement measures and programs that will mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

“The swift action of Congress is a testament to the Whole-of-Nation approach needed to fight COVID-19. The Bayanihan to Recover As One Act will greatly benefit the nation, especially sectors severely affected by this health crisis,” said NTF Chairman and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

“We thank our leaders in Congress, for shepherding this very important measure. Truly by working together, we will recover as one,” Lorenzana added.

National Action Plan (NAP) Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act is critical to ramp up the implementation of the NAP. Phase II of the National Plan is anchored on the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) Strategy of the government.

Galvez noted that in the recently ratified bicam report, Congress allotted P3 billion for the procurement of face masks, personal protective equipment, shoe covers and face shields; P5 billion to finance the hiring of at least 50,000 contact tracers to be implemented by the Department of Interior and Local Government; and P4.5 billion for the construction and maintenance of isolation facilities including billing of hotels, food and transportation, among others.

“The support of Congress will strengthen the national government’s pandemic response efforts in balancing the health of the people and the recovery of our economy” said Galvez.

Deputy Chief Implementer and Testing Czar Secretary Vince Dizon added that the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act also provides a P10 billion standby fund for COVID-19 testing and procurement of COVID-19 medication and vaccine.

“Congress’ approval of the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act will help us further ramp up our testing capacity nationwide. The first Bayanihan law allowed us to strengthen our testing efforts, with the Philippines now at the top in conducting the most number of COVID-19 tests compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors,” Dizon said.

More than two million individuals have already been tested for COVID-19 as of August 22. The government targets to test a total of 10 million Filipinos by June next year.

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 MSMEs; and P3 billion for displaced tourism workers; and P1 billion for tourism infrastructure under Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). \Other major items included in the P160 billion Bangon Fund of Bayanihan 2 include:

* P39.47 billion for capital infusion to government banks

* P24 billion to boost agriculture and provide assistance to farmers and fishermen

* P13.5 billion for benefits and hiring of more healthcare workers

* P13 billiion for cash for work program

* P9.5 billion for assistance to public utility drivers and other programs of Department of Transportation (DOTr).

* P6 billion for "individuals in crisis" and other programs of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) programs

* P5 billion for hiring of contract tracers

* P4.5 billion for construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, and for expansion of government hospital capacity

* P4.5 billion for isolation facilities, hotel accommodation, food and transportation of COVID-19 patients

* P4 billion for tourism industry

* P4 billion for Department of Education’s (DepEd) implementation of digital learning

* P3 billion for procurement of personal protective equipment, face masks, face shields

* P3 billion for development of smart campuses

* P2 billion subsidy for local government units (LGUs) paying interest on loans secured from government banks

* P1.5 billion assistance to local government units

* P1 billion for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) scholarships

* P820 million for assistance to OFWs

* P600 million in subsidies, allowance for students severely affected by the pandemic

* P300 million in subsidies, allowance for teachers, part time faculty, other employees of state universities and colleges

* and P180 million in allowances for national athletes and coaches

"We have all learned our lessons in the implementation of Bayanihan Act. We now have to ensure that the money goes where they matter the most. No duplication of beneficiaries, but no one left behind," Romualdez pointed out.