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House to ratify P165-B COVID-19 recovery plan on Monday

The House of Representatives is set to ratify on Monday the bicameral committee report on the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, which now outlines a P165 billion-worth of response interventions to help the country recover from the COVID-19 crisis and boost the economy.

“The House is set to ratify on Monday next week Bayanihan 2, the final version of which  was wrapped up Thursday after three days of marathon sessions by the bicam panel,” said Camarines Sur Representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte, who headed the House contingent to bicam panel.

“There were several contentious provisions that stalled final approval but at the end, everything was resolved because of the desire of both chambers to act and pass swiftly this measure that the people and businesses urgently need,” he added.

The House initially proposed a P162-billion funding under its version of the proposed Bayanihan 2 law, higher than the P140 billion that the Senate recommended.

In the end, Villafuerte said the Senate and House panel agreed to set the funding to P165 billion "to accommodate all COVID-battered sectors that have sought immediate government assistance in the face of the likely protracted battle with the coronavirus pandemic.”

“We are hoping the P165-billion outlay set in this consolidated version that will be ratified by both chambers of the Congress would just be an initial stimulus package, given the huge amount that we legislators in the House believe is needed to spell a strong and early recovery for the sectors reeling from the global economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Sources of funding as stated in the bill include unprogrammed funds and savings from the 2020 General Appropriations Act, pooled savings from the first Bayanihan Law, excess revenue collections from tax and non-tax sources, new revenue collections, among others.

Salient features

Under the final version of the proposed Bayanihan 2 Law, P50 billion will be allocated to government financial institutions --- Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, Philippine Guarantee Corp., and Small Business Corp. --- to provide soft loans to affected sectors.

"We in the bicam panel have agreed that the P50 billion will be made available as loans to all the affected sectors instead of specific amounts or portions being earmarked for certain sectors as originally sought by some groups," Villafuerte said.

Like the first Bayanihan Law, this measure also provides a P5,000 to P8,000 to affected low income households in areas under granular lockdown and those with recently returned overseas Filipino workers, as well as to displaced workers.

The measure also sets aside subsidies and allowances amounting to P600,000 to qualified students in both public and private elementary, high school, and college students, as well as one-time cash aid amounting to P300,000 to displaced teaching and non-teaching personnel.

Aside from these, the final bill also calls for the temporary suspension of the requirements needed to secure permits and clearances of telecommunications and Internet infrastructure to upgrade the country's connectivity, Villafuerte said.

It also directs public utilities to implement a 30-day grace period of payment of fees falling within the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or modified ECQ without incurring interests, penalties and other charges, he added.

A total of P13.5 billion has also been allotted under the bill for health-related responses, including the payment of P100,000 hazard pay for healthcare workers, P10,000 special risk allowance to both public and private medical frontliners, P3 billion for the procurement of face masks, face shields and personal protective equipment, and P4.5 billion for the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities.

Meanwhile, P13 billion has been set aside for cash-for-work programs and unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers; P24 billon for direct cash or loan interest rate subsidies to farm groups under Department of Agriculture programs; and P9.5 billion for various programs of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), including assistance to displaced public utility drivers and construction of protected bicycle lanes.

A total P4 billion has also been earmarked for the tourism industry, of which P1 billion is for Tourism Road Infrastructure Programs, and P3 billion is for cash-for-work programs and assistance to displaced workers.

Some stakeholders from the tourism industry, including former tourism chiefs, earlier opposed the allocation of P10 billion for the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, claiming that there was no glaring need for infrastructure at a time of COVID-19.

Villafuerte said otherwise, stressing the need for more infrastructure to boost the tourism industry in the country which would result in more jobs and assistance to displaced tourism workers. -NB, GMA News