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.
Breakdown of COVID-19 response fund
The P140 billion under Bayanihan 2 would be primarily sourced from off-budget government savings and tax collections.
It is broken down as follows:
- P13.5 billion for the following health-related items: hiring of emergency “human resources for health,” augmentation for operations of hospitals, monthly special risk allowance, “actual hazard pay,” life insurance, accommodation, transportation, and meals for health workers
- P3 billion to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for all local health workers, barangay officials, and “other indigent persons”; preference to be given to local PPE manufacturers
- P4.5 billion for the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, field hospitals, dormitories for frontliners, and the expansion of government hospital capacity nationwide
- P13 billion for cash-for-work programs, and unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers, freelancers, the self-employed, and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the government’s deployment ban
- P39.5 billion for capital infusions to government financial institutions (GFIs), of which P5 billion is for the credit guarantee program; P18.4 billion for the Land Bank of the Philippines and P6 billion for the Development Bank of the Philippines as equity infusion for low-interest loans for workers and businesses affected by the pandemic; P10 billion for the COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) program of the trade department’s Small Business Corporation, including P6 billion for tourism micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)
- P24 billion for direct cash or loan interest rate subsidies to farmers, fisherfolk, agri-fishery enterprises and cooperatives, to finance the Department of Agriculture’s Plant, Plant, Plant program
- P9.5 billion to the Department of Transportation, of which P2.6 billion is for critically affected transport businesses; P5.6 billion for temporary livelihood for displaced public utility vehicle drivers; P1.3 billion to set up sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and to procure bicycles and other equipment for sharing and lending programs
- P100 million for training and subsidies for tourist guides P3 billion to assist state universities and colleges in developing smart campuses through investments in their ICT capabilities
- P600 million for subsidies and allowances of qualified students of public and private schools in all levels, and part-time faculty of state universities and colleges
- P300 million for subsidies and allowances of displaced teaching and non-teaching personnel, including part-time faculty, in all schools in all levels
- P1 billion for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s programs for displaced workers.
- P6 billion for the food and livelihood assistance grants to households in areas on hard lockdown through the Department of Social Welfare and Development
- P4 billion to assist the Department of Education’s digital and alternative learning modalities, including the printing and delivery of self-learning modules
- P1.5 billion in assistance to local government units under the Local Government Support Fund
- P180 million for allowances of national athletes and coaches
- P820 million for the repatriation of OFWs, medical assistance for overseas Filipinos, and bringing home the remains of those who die of COVID-19
- P4 billion for the tourism industry, of which P1 billion is for tourism infrastructure by the Department of Public Works and Highways, and P3 billion to assist displaced tourism sector workers through the Department of Labor and Employment. An additional P6 billion for tourism – for soft loans to tourism MSMEs through the Small Business Corporation – is lumped into the P39.5 billion allotted for GFIs.
- P4.5 billion to build and maintain isolation facilities, including the billing of hotels, food, and transport used for the COVID-19 response of the Office of Civil Defense as head of the National Task Force against COVID-19
- P5 billion to hire at least 50,000 contact tracers, to be implemented by the Department of the Interior and Local Government
- P2.5 million for the Professional Regulation Commission’s computer-based licensure examination
- P2 billion to subsidize payment of interest on new and existing loans secured by local government units: P1 billion each from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines
- P10 million for the Health Technology Assessment Council research fund to increase COVID-19 research and internal capacity for evidence generation
- P15 million to establish a computational research laboratory in the University of the Philippines Diliman Institute of Mathematics, to perform big-data analysis for COVID-19 and other pandemic research
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:
- P10 billion for COVID-19 testing and procurement of COVID-19 medication and vaccine
- P9 billion to support wholesale banking and equity infusion of the Land Bank of the Philippines for low-interest loans for workers and businesses affected by the pandemic
- P6.5 billion to support wholesale banking and equity infusion of the Development Bank of the Philippines for low-interest loans for workers and businesses affected by the pandemic
- All other programs and activities authorized by Bayanihan 2
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