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House panel OKs P1.5-T CURES bill, other measures to address COVID-19 crisis


The House Defeat COVID-19 Committee on Thursday approved additional measures to help address the COVID-19 crisis in the country, including the bill proposing a three-year, P1.5-trillion stimulus program to kick-start the country's economy and generate jobs.

During its virtual meeting, the committee, co-chaired by Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, approved House Bill 6709, or the proposed "COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020," authored by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and eight other lawmakers.

The measure seeks to raise government spending on the areas of health, education, agriculture, local roads infrastructure and livelihood (HEAL) “towards maximizing the direct and indirect creation and preservation of jobs, particularly in the rural countryside.”

“We all know that dole-outs do not provide a sustainable living to the people. It is incumbent upon us to come up with an economic stimulus package that assures sustainable employment and an improved economy,” Romualdez said.

With the proposed CURES Act, Romualdez said “we seek to create millions of jobs that will spring from infrastructure projects in the rural areas and, eventually, will lead to the recovery of the economy.”

Under the bill, a special outlay to be called the CURES Fund equivalent to P1.5 billion will be released over a period of three years to fund the infrastructure projects under the HEAL priority areas.

An initial P500 billion will be released in the first year, followed by another P500 billion in the second year and another P500 in the third year.

The CURES Fund will be available for use for various projects ranging from barangay health centers and municipal and city hospitals to digital equipment for testing, “telehealth” services and e-prescriptions to post-harvest facilities, bagsakan centers and food terminals.

The said fund may also be used to implement other infrastructure projects such as walking or bicycle lanes, bridges across creeks and irrigation canals, evacuation centers and disaster emergency facilities, and roads going to tourist spots, beaches, mountain parks, new business districts or economic zones, and hubs for small and medium-sized enterprises.

‘Better Normal’ bill

Apart from this measure, the committee also approved the substitute measure to House Bill 6623, also known as the proposed “Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020, which makes health and safety measures like frequent handwashing and wearing of masks mandatory for the next three years in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

The bill primarily aims to prepare and educate Filipinos for a life after the COVID-related restrictions have been lifted through new norms of social and physical distancing and other safety measures in government and private establishments and institutions.

“As soon as we adapt to the new normal, businesses can resume operations and workers can go back to their jobs without fear of contracting the dreaded coronavirus,” Romualdez said.

“Through physical distancing and other stringent safety and health protocols, we can also keep our families safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. We have no choice but to adapt to the new normal. The soonest time possible, the better,” he added.

PCR COVID-19 testing bill

At the same time, the committee also approved the substitute measure to House Bill 6707, which establishes baseline Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing as the protocol for COVID-19 testing and makes this available, affordable and accessible.

According to Romualdez, the measure mandates the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to shoulder the cost of PCR COVID-19 testing for vulnerable sectors.

The measure was principally authored by Iloilo Representative Janette Garin, a former health secretary, who has been proposing that employees be also tested for COVID-19 before going back to work once quarantine restrictions have been eased.

Resolutions

Two resolutions have likewise been adopted by the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee.

One is the substitute measure to House Resolution 807 which urges the national government to fast-track the disbursement of the second tranche of the emergency cash subsidy to low-income families by authorizing the barangay to identify the beneficiaries and disburse the allocation fairly, efficiently and responsibly.

Another resolution that the committee approved is the substitute measure to House Resolution 821, which expresses the commitment of the House of Representatives

to enact the proposed P66-billion supplemental budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in order to support its programs to address the impact of COVID-19 especially on the areas of food and nutrition.

Following the approval of these measures in the committee, they will now be taken up in the House plenary for consideration. — RSJ, GMA News