IN calling for a reboot of the Duterte administration’s flagship infrastructure projects even amid the extended lockdown, a House leader on Tuesday has proposed the inclusion of construction activities as an essential service exempted from whatever containment measures remain in place beyond April 30, the supposed end of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte reiterated that the President’s signature initiative “Build, Build, Build” must be put back on track at once as infrastructure investments offer the highest multiplier effects, including job generation, on the economy—and could thus stimulate high growth even while the coronavirus-induced health crisis is still raging across the globe.
“Rebooting 'Build, Build, Build' projects even during the lockdown will spearhead the recovery of our economy and thus mitigate the adverse effects of what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to be the worst global recession in almost a century since the Great Depression of the 1930s," said Villafuerte, a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee monitoring the implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.
Villafuerte said regular construction work can resume on major infrastructure projects for so long as social distancing measures and other health protocols are strictly imposed in job sites.
On or near site housing for workers should be in place, or if this not possible, point-to-point shuttle service should be made available to them, he said.
Villafuerte also cited the need for the regular disinfection of workplaces, as well as other hygienic measures to protect the health of workers in these infrastructure projects.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) is consulting experts and discuss the proposal by various quarters to resume public construction work on infrastructure projects.
The IATF-EID earlier approved the request of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to allow the resumption of utility relocation works and resume specified limited works on 13 rail projects.
The projects include the rail replacement of the MRT-3, but only limited mobilization and skeletal staffing for these projects were allowed.
Villafuerte was the lead author in the House of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and is co-chairman of the social amelioration cluster of the House's Defeat Covid-19 Committee (DCC) chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and co-chaired by Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
The Deputy Speaker said that to help the nation prepare for a post-Covid-19 scenario, he is now crafting a proposed “New Normal Workplaces and Public Spaces Act,” which aims to bank on digitalization and the use of new technologies to help Government reduce the risks of, and promptly manage and respond to, public health emergencies in the future.
Villafuerte said the government should speed up the full implementation of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) project of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the National Broadband Program (NBP) of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
He also urged the swift approval by the Congress of his “Bangko sa Barrio” bill, which aims to widen the access to financial services of unbanked Filipinos, most especially those in remote villages without any branches of private or state-run banks.
This trio of measures will prevent, he said, a repeat of the initial delay that attended the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)'s implementation of its P200-billion social amelioration program (SAP) or cash transfers to 18 million poor and low-income households who lost their only means of livelihood following the sudden stop of economic activity during the ECQ.
Complementing these measures is Villafuerte’s proposal to set up safety and hygienic spots, such as handwashing stations, in public spaces like schools and government offices.
“We need to harness digital technology to bring people closer to their government, more so in the ‘new normal’ scenario after this Covid-19 crisis where variations of modified quarantine and social distancing might become the way of life and the government will probably need to extend subsidies to pre-selected groups of families and certain business sectors whenever necessary,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte said DSWD could have easily distributed the cash aid mandated under RA 11469 if the Philsys project was already in place by now, as this ID system would have easily profiled the 18 million target households, including their respective home addresses.
He said the Congress needs to pass the “Bangko sa Barrio” bill so the government could download the cash in an instant to each and every family not only through the accredited banks, remittance centers and paycard platforms like GCash and PayMaya, but also through the bill-proposed authorized cash agents (ACAs) that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and contracting banks are to tap to serve the banking needs of people in faraway barrios where there are no bank branches.
To make sure the government could make seamless online transfers of cash to beneficiaries of future subsidy programs via all banks, remittance centers, Paycard platforms or his proposed ACAs, Villafuerte said the DICT needs to expedite its NBP, which aims to deploy fiber optic cables and wireless technologies, to ensure regional connectivity and improve Internet speed, especially in remote villages nationwide.