Duterte to call special session when lawmakers agree on Bayanihan 2 fund amount

Pia Ranada
Duterte to call special session when lawmakers agree on Bayanihan 2 fund amount
The President wants the Senate and House to agree on the amount of standby funds in a bill that would extend his coronavirus response powers if passed into law

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte would ask the Senate and House of Representatives to convene in a special session to pass the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act or Bayanihan 2, announced Malacañang.

He would do so when the two chambers finally agree on the standby fund the law would allow the Duterte administration to tap for coronavirus measures – like testing, procurement of protective equipment, and aid to low-income households and workers.

Magpapatawag po ang President ng special session kung mayroon na pong nabuong consensus kung magkano yung magiging stimulus package,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday, June 25.

(The President would call for a special session when there is already a consensus on how much the stimulus package will be.)

The Senate and House versions of Bayanihan 2 differed in the amount of standby fund for coronavirus response. In the Senate version, it was P140 billion compared to the P162 billion proposed by the House. 

Duterte’s own economic managers, however, said the amount should only be P130 billion since this was all the government can fund.

This standby fund is not technically an economic stimulus package. It’s only the closest to a “supplementary budget” needed to continue with government programs containing COVID-19 and helping affected sectors get by.

If no special session is called, lawmakers would only be able to deliberate on Bayanihan 2 after Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 27.

Separate stimulus package bills. There is a proposed P1.3 trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines  and a proposed P1.5 trillion infrastructure stimulus package called COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (Cures) Act. Only the House has passed the latter. No such bill is in the Senate yet.

The former focuses on getting small businesses back on their feet while the latter funds infrastructure projects to provide employment.

Bayanihan 2 also extends the 30 powers given to Duterte to handle the pandemic – like declare funds for existing programs as savings and use these savings for pandemic response. Other powers include giving cash aid to affected families and providing compensation to health workers.

These powers lapsed on Wednesday, June 24. But Roque gave assurances this would not affect the government’s coronavirus efforts in the short term since funds for cash aid to families and workers have been released and testing supplies procured.

Malacañang previously said it wanted a 90-day extension of these powers.

In early June, as Congress prepared to adjourn for two months, lawmakers had expected Duterte to certify Bayanihan 2 as urgent.

But Malacañang did not issue the certification because the Department of Finance still had 32 amendments it wanted inserted in the Senate’s version of the bill. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.