The proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act or Bayanihan 2 setting a P165.5-billion emergency fund for the government's coronavirus recovery programs hurdled Congress on Monday, August 24.
The House of Representatives ratified the bicameral conference committee report on Bayanihan 2 on Monday, after the bicam threshed out the conflicting provisions in the Senate and House versions of the bill last week. The Senate already ratified the measure on August 20.
This means that Bayanihan 2 can now be transmitted to Malacañang for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature.
If the President signs it into law, Bayanihan 2 would extend to December 19 the validity of the special powers Congress earlier granted to Duterte to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The first Bayanihan law had expired on June 5.
But of the P165.5-billion pandemic response fund, only P140 billion would be readily available, as the Duterte government has yet to identify revenue sources for the remaining P25.5 billion "standby fund."
Duterte would be required to submit monthly reports to Congress on how the funds would be disbursed.
The bicam also inserted a waiver in Bayanihan 2 that would allow the government to immediately purchase COVID-19 vaccines even if they have yet to complete Phase 4 clinical trials.
This provision would disregard the prohibition in the Universal Health Care Act barring the government from buying drugs and vaccines that have not yet passed final clinical trials.
This provision is backed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
"Like I always say, we have to adapt, innovate, and manage in the new normal. So ngayon pa lang talagang naghahanda na tayo para sa vaccine. Hindi pupuwede na kung kailan nandiyan at saka pa lang tayo maghahanap ng pera," Cayetano said in a statement on Saturday, August 22.
(Like I always say, we have to adapt, innovate, and manage in the new normal. So we have to be preparing for the vaccine as early as now. We can't just look for the money only when the vaccine has been developed.)
Philippine officials are eyeing to participate in Phase 3 clinical trials for Russia's COVID-19 vaccine, touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin as "quite effective." Scientists worldwide, however, have raised concerns over its safety.
The World Health Organization's Regional Office for the Western Pacific also urged countries to continue improving efforts to respond to the pandemic instead of pinning their hopes on a COVID-19 vaccine.
The P140 billion under Bayanihan 2 would be primarily sourced from off-budget government savings and tax collections.
It is broken down as follows:
The P25.5 billion “standby fund” will be available “once additional funds are generated from savings and unused amounts.” It will be used for the following:
But before they ratified Bayanihan 2, several lawmakers took the floor and delivered privilege speeches slamming senators for "insinuating" the House contingent supposedly pushed for personal interests during the bicam meetings.
The Duterte government has long been taking the heat for its response to the COVID-19 crisis. (READ: Pandemic unravels Duterte's 2016 promise of decisive leadership)
As of Monday, the disease has infected a total of 194,252 people in the Philippines, with 3,010 deaths and 132,042 recoveries. – Rappler.com