Romualdez: DCC to approve P1.5Tr SAP under CURES Act

Martin Romualdez
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez

THE Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) co-chaired by House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will approve this Thursday the P1.5 trillion social amelioration program under the proposed “COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020."

“On that note, I enjoin all House Members, particularly the Co-chairs and members of the Social Amelioration Cluster, to throw their support behind this bill. I pray that through collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, we can further finetune this proposal and come up with a refined version that will greatly benefit our fellow countrymen and move our country forward,” said Romualdez on the proposal that was approved Tuesday morning by the DCC’s Social Amelioration Cluster, co-chaired by Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte Jr. and Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez.

Following House Bill (HB) No. 6709 CURES’ approval, the Romualdez’s DCC will set a hearing this Thursday to endorse the measure for Plenary consideration.

“Let me congratulate first the co-chairs of the Social Amelioration Cluster of the House Defeat COVID-19 committee, Deputy Speaker Luis Villafuerte, Jr. and Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez , for their swift action on this bill,” Romualdez pointed out.

Principally authored by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Romualdez and Villafuerte, the bill provides for a P1.5-trillion fund geared towards creating sustainable jobs that will provide employment and income-earning opportunities to the underprivileged especially in the rural areas affected by the pandemic.

Romualdez said the proposed "CURES Act of 2020" is anchored on the principle that government spending on infrastructure is a vehicle towards economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as it directly increases employment, adds to demand for goods and services through purchases of materials and equipment, and creates a multiplier effect through additional spending of hired workers.

The CURES Act of 2020 shall also be undertaken with the “Balik Probinsya Bagong Pag-asa Program” while the immediate funding of CURES projects shall target the infrastructure building at the barangay level in areas of HEAL: Health -  for the construction or improvement of barangay municipal health centers; Education – for expansion of school buildings to decongest classrooms, technical vocational learning centers, establishment of digital education in the public educational system; Agriculture – for construction repair or improvement of municipal provincial fish ports, trading centers; and Local roads and Livelihood projects – such as farm to market roads.

As one of the co-authors of the bill, Villafuerte urged his fellow lawmakers to support the immediate passage of the bill. Appropriation for the CURES Act fund shall be made available for three fiscal years from the approval of the Act.

“If we were able to provide over P200 billion on dole-outs through the Bayanihan Act, I think it is just right to provide P500-billion under the proposed CURES Act to create jobs. The rationale of this bill is that all infrastructure projects should be shovel ready. Hindi na po pwede na gagawa tayo ng mga proyekto na aabutin ng mga isa o dalawang taon, dapat implementable ito within 60 to 90 days para diretso na pong mabigyan ang mga tao ng hanapbuhay,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said that the P1.5-trillion countryside infrastructure spending measure is guaranteed to create a multitude of employment opportunities especially in rural areas to partly make up for the jobs that were lost amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the swift congressional approval of CURES Act of 2020, will help ease the pressure on the Duterte administration to create hundreds of thousands of jobs this year, now that the Covid-19 crisis has displaced—according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)—almost 2.76 million workers as more than 102,000 establishments have closed shop or adopted flexible work arrangements since the imposition of  lockdowns nationwide.

Villafuerte said the approved measure is in support of President Duterte’s Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa program, which—according to the National Housing Authority (NHA)—has so far attracted some 53,000 city dwellers who have submitted online applications signifying their interest in returning to their home provinces.

Villafuerte said the CURES Act aims to spur regional growth by allocating P1.5 trillion over the next three years for accelerated countryside spending on health, education, agriculture, local road and livelihood (HEAL) infrastructure.

“With infrastructure investments having the highest multiplier effect on the economy, the DCC social amelioration subpanel has sought the swift congressional passage of HB 6709 to raise state spending on  HEAL infrastructure to create rural jobs and blunt the impact of what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to be the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s,” Villafuerte said.

Cayetano and Villafuerte’s measure other co-authors are Deputy Speakers Paolo Duterte and Loren Legarda; and Reps. Eric Yap, Maria Laarni Cayetano, Michael Defensor and Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado.

Villafuerte cited the urgency of creating a lot of jobs in the countyside, given the huge number of city folk who have expressed interest in returning to their home provinces via the Balik Probinsya program. This return-to-the-provinces project was first espoused by Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go and subsequently endorsed by President Duterte by issuing Executive Order (EO) No. 114.

During the DCC subcommittee hearing, Villafuerte pointed out that local HEAL projects are needed to create jobs and other livelihood opportunities in the countryside, especially for Filipinos whose incomes were lost or reduced because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Hence, a major government effort is needed to create a significant number of jobs in rural areas via accelerated infrastructure investments, he said, because people in the provinces would continue to flock to Metro Manila and other urban centers if major projects are put up only in these areas.

“How can we create enough jobs in the countryside if the bulk of state infrastructure investments remain concentrated in Metro Manila and other urban centers?” he stressed during the subpanel hearing.

Villafuerte said the CURES fund should be automatically appropriated over and above the national budgets for the next three years, so such infrastructure development funds could be used at once  implement HEAL projects in the provinces.

Agriculture Se. William Dar expressed support for the bill and highlighted the needs of the fishery and agriculture sectors, such as regional trading centers and network of logistical support that would link the farmers and fishermen from the provinces to the urban areas.

“From the regional areas, we should have more regional trading posts where farmers can bring and sell initially their products. Otherwise, they can also bring their produce to metro areas. And the post-harvest facilities should also be in strategic areas so that the produce are properly packaged. Ito na yung panahon na pagbigyan natin ang agrikultura para sa ganun aangat na rin sila, dahil sila talaga ang tunay na bayani, in regard to producing enough food for the whole of the country,” said Dar.

Meanwhile, Technical Education and Skills Authority (TESDA) Deputy Director General Rosanna Urdaneta finds the proposed CURES Act of 2020 very significant as it can help the agency in carrying out their programs and strategies.

HB No. 6709, if enacted into law,  can improve the number and capacity of TESDA’s Technical-Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centers that will include modern facilities and equipment, construction of e-learning centers, establishment of innovation centers, as well as the upgrading and expanding of TESDA’s online programs, she said.

Representatives of other government agencies such as the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) also endorsed the approval of the proposed CURES Act of 2020.