Voting 22-1, the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, outlining P140 billion-worth of economic recovery interventions that should be carried out by the government amid the global pandemic, finally passed third and final reading in the Senate on Tuesday.
The Senate approval came almost two months after the lawmakers first intended to make it a law. President Rodrigo Duterte urged Congress to pass the second Bayanihan law during his 5th State of the Nation Address on Monday.
Senate Bill 1564, or the Bayanihan Law 2, aims to reduce the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the socioeconomic well-being of Filipinos through the provision of assistance, subsidies and other forms of socioeconomic relief, and to sustain efforts to test, trace, and treat COVID-19 cases in the country.
Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan was the lone senator who voted against the Bayanihan 2 bill.
The bill provides for the appropriation of a P140 billion in standby fund to facilitate economic recovery which shall be spent as follows:
- P10 billion for efforts to ramp up COVID-19 testing and enhancement of health care services
- P15 billion for the implementation of cash-for-work program and the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD)
- P17 billion for unemployment or involuntary separation assistance to the displaced workers in health, education, tourism, culture and arts, creative industry, transportation and other sectors affected by the pandemic
- P50 billion for infusion of capital to government financial institutions
- P17 billion support to the agriculture sector
- P17 billion assistance to the critically impacted businesses in the transportation industry and for the development of accessible sidewalks and protected bicycle lanes
- P10 billion support for the bogged-down tourism sector
- P3 billion assistance to state universities and colleges for their transition to flexible learning modality
- P1 billion assistance to Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for the development of smart campuses
Among the sources of the proposed multi-billion appropriation are the 2020 General Appropriations Act, savings pooled pursuant to the first Bayanihan law, excess revenue collections, loans, foreign borrowings, and taxes collected from offshore gaming industry.
Dole-outs and labor assistance
The bill retained the subsidy for 18 million low-income households under the enhanced community quarantine—a key provision of the first Bayanihan law. The amount, however, was not specified. Households of displaced Overseas Filipino Workers shall likewise be entitled to cash assistance from the government.
"The vetting and validation of beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program and the related liquidation report thereto shall be simplified to expedite the distribution of the subsidy," it read.
It also has a provision for a one-month emergency subsidy to low-income households who are qualified but were not granted such under the social amelioration program in the first Bayanihan law.
Unemployment or involuntary separation assistance must be provided to displaced workers or employees, including probationary, project, seasonal, contractual and casual employees in affected sectors like private health institutions, tourism, culture and arts, creative industries, construction, public transportation, trade industries, among others.
The bill also provides for the implementation of an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), responsive to the needs posed by the crisis.
Livelihood assistance, skills and training programs, loan assistance, and employment opportunities for repatriated and returning OFWs must also be made accessible.
The Department of Health, the Department of Labor and Employment and its attached agencies shall ensure that returning OFW-health care workers, or those whose deployments were suspended due to COVID-19 will be referred to the ongoing hiring of temporary Human Resources for Health.
There shall be no phaseout, at the national and local level, of any modality of public utility vehicles as the transportation industry transitions to a new normal.
The departments of Trade and Interior shall review the imposition of the amusement tax as a regulatory relief to the critically-impacted creative sector. The President may also suspend, reduce, or waive the imposition of the fees and charges as recommended by the DTI and DILG for a period of six months.
The Public Works Department shall also expedite the implementation of infrastructure programs and projects to generate local employment and stimulate the local economy.
National and local government agencies shall likewise be allowed to directly purchase agricultural and fishery products from farmers and fisherfolk as a form of direct assistance to them.
The bill states that COVID-19 testing in the Philippines must be beefed up and shall cover a certain percentage of the population, as prescribed by the World Health Organization.
A mandatory testing of public and private health workers every 15 days must likewise be implemented to ensure their protection.
The existing network of barangay health workers, parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), and members of duly accredited Civil Society Organizations must also be tapped to boost contact tracing efforts in the country.
The P100,000 sickness benefit for public and private health workers who would contract severe COVID-19, and P1 million death benefit for those who would succumb to the virus while in line of duty were included in the measure. These will have a retroactive application from January 1, 2020.
All public health workers shall receive a “COVID-19 special risk allowance” for every month that they are serving in the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is on top of the hazard pay granted under the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers or Republic Act No. 7305.
It further provides for the uninterrupted delivery of immunization program against vaccine-preventable diseases, especially among children.
The DOH should also adopt a uniform and consistent reporting standard in a language understandable by the general public.
The donation, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic should not be unnecessarily delayed.
The procurement of personal protective equipment and other necessary medical supplies "in the most judicious, economical and expeditious manner" shall be exempted from certain provisions of Republic Act No. 9184 or the “Government Procurement Reform Act.”
As a safeguard, all procurement documents shall be published on the Government Procurement Policy Board online portal and the website of the procuring entity.
The importation and/or local sale of necessary medical equipment and supplies shall be exempt from import duties, taxes and other fees.
The grant of tuition subsidies to qualified private school students in basic education and tertiary education is also included in the bill. These shall be released directly to the private learning institutions prior to the opening of school year 2020-2021 but no later than September 2020.
A one-time cash assistance shall be extended to private school teaching and non-teaching employees who were affected and displaced by the pandemic. Affected part-time faculty in state universities and colleges must also receive the said aid.
The measure also provides for loan assistance, subsidies, discounts or grants to schools, teachers, faculties, and students for the purchase of distance learning tools such as computers, laptops, tablets and other ICT devices.
A portion of the Special Education Fund of the local government units shall be used for the purchase of materials and supplies under DepEd’s learning continuity plan, provision of safe schools infrastructure, equipment, and facilities.
To address the need for digital connectivity, internet speed and stability, the government shall also forge partnerships with appropriate internet and communication service providers in the acceleration of the deployment of critical Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure, equipment, software, and wireless technologies throughout the country.
The DTI and other concerned agencies must also accelerate and undertake massive promotion of online commerce, and offer technical and financial assistance for the digitalization of micro, small, and medium enterprises.
Credit, moratoriums, etc.
Under the bill, agrarian reform beneficiaries must also have enhanced access to credit facilities. The availability of credit to the productive sectors of the economy, especially in the countryside, must be ensured.
A special loan program to help learning institutions upgrade and adapt to flexible learning must be developed by the government.
The Small Business Corporation shall also expand its existing loan programs for MSMEs.
The Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines shall also introduce a low-interest loan program to businesses, especially those who are small and deemed non-essential.
The Philippine Guarantee Corporation may also be directed to issue an expanded government guarantee program for non-essential businesses, to ease current rules and regulations and give preference to critically impacted businesses.
Further, the government may implement a minimum of a 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans, as well as credit card payments in certain areas, falling due within the period of the enhanced community quarantine and modified enhanced community quarantine. Unpaid credit card bills shall be settled on a staggered basis without interest on interests, penalties and other charges until December 31, 2020.
The 30-day grace period may also apply to the payment of bills for electricity, water, telecommunications, and other similar utilities falling due within the period of ECQ or MECQ without incurring interests, penalties, and other charges.
After the grace period, unpaid residential and MSME utility bills may be settled on a staggered basis payable in not less than three monthly installments.
The entire value chain of the power sector—including the generation companies, transmission utilities, and distribution utilities— shall also benefit from a minimum of 30-day grace period and staggered payment without interests, penalties and other charges for payments due within the period of the community quarantine.
A minimum of 30-day grace period after the lifting of ECQ and MECQ shall likewise be given to residential rents and commercial rents of lessees not permitted to work, and MSMEs that were ordered to temporarily cease operations.
Local government units shall be authorized to utilize more than 5% of the amount allocated for their calamity fund subject to additional funding and support from the National Government.
The 30% cap on the amount appropriated for the Quick Response Fund as provided for in Republic Act No. 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010”, must be lifted during the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first Bayanihan Law was deemed repealed last month after the first regular session of the 18th Congress adjourned. The non-certification of Bayanihan 2 as urgent hampered its passage in the Senate last month.
Malacañang assured last week that a certification will be released—a moot move, according to Sotto.
Nonetheless, Senator Sonny Angara—principal sponsor of the bill—said this could help fast-track the passage of the counterpart measure in the House of Representatives.
The House Committee of the Whole approved its version of the Bayanihan to Recover as One on first reading last June 4. — RSJ, GMA News