House of Representatives

House body puts Bayanihan 3 bill on plenary

Rambo Talabong

SESSION. Lawmakers at the House plenary during the pandemic.

Darren Langit/Rappler

Bayanihan 3 reaches the House plenary missing a Certificate of Availability of Funds – a document that lawmakers argue they can secure later

The P405.6-billion Bayanihan To Arise As One bill or the Bayanihan 3 relief package bill is now set for plenary debates at the House of Representatives after it gained the approval of the House appropriations committee on Friday, May 21.

The massive relief package was passed at the committee despite missing a constitutional requirement.

The bill was passed without a Certificate of Availability of Funds (CAF) – a certification ideally issued by the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) after finding enough excess revenue and revenue sources to fund a government project.

Before moving for the bill’s approval, House appropriations panel vice chair Davao de Oro 2nd District Representative Ruwel Peter Gonzaga said the CAF was not needed immediately.

“It is my own position that the certification of availability is not necessary, because the constitution provides no stage, what stage would the Treasury or the National Treasurer issue the [certificate of] availability of funds,” Gonzaga said.

He added: “Pwede naman ito sa plenary. Pwede naman bukas, sa susunod. Pero pagdating sa dulo, kailangan talaga namin ng certificate of availability of funds (This can be sought during plenary discussions. This can be sought tomorrow, or next time. But in the end, we will really need the certificate of availability of funds).”

The Bayanihan 3 was earlier passed by the House Committees on Social Services, Economic Affairs, and Ways and Means. It still needs to get the approval of the House plenary and the Senate.

What does the Constitution say?

Article 6, Section 25 of the Philippine Constitution states that: “A special appropriations bill shall specify the purpose for which it is intended, and shall be supported by funds actually available as certified by the National Treasurer, or to be raised by a corresponding revenue proposed therein.”

Bureau of Treasury (BTr) director Dominick Mariano explained to lawmakers that the BTr is only withholding CAFs in the interest of the country’s “fiscal sustainability.” The Philippine debt-to-GDP ratio is over 60%, the highest in 16 years, as borrowings mount and revenues fall amid the pandemic.

AAMBIS-OWA Representative Sharon Garin, one of the bill’s proponents, urged the economic managers to support the bill, saying that lawmakers are already pressured by their constituents to deliver ayuda (aid) as the pandemic rendered millions jobless and starving.

“I would like to appeal to our economic managers, since the law does not provide that a certification is needed now…We can arrive at a certain number where bot the legislative and executive [agree]. We are also pressured, because we are on the ground, and that is what our constituents are asking for,” Garin said.

The Duterte government has been scrambling to determine sources of funding for pandemic aid. On May 12, Malacañang ordered all executive agencies to identify savings and deficiencies in their 2020 budget that could be used for help.

What’s in Bayanihan 3?

The proposed Bayanihan 3 is divided into 3 phases, with the following budget breakdown:

  1. Phase 1 – P167 billion
  2. Phase 2 – 196 billion
  3. Phase 3 – P42.6 billion
PRIORITIES. The overview of Bayanihan 3’s budget plan.
Rappler screenshot

The phases are ranked based on priority. Lawmakers are confident that Phase 1 could be funded by the government, while the other two phases can be funded as the government finds more sources of revenue.

Phases 1 and 2 contain the most anticipated aid giveaway – a total of P208 million that amounts to P2,000 per Filipino divided into two P-1,000 instalments for each phase.

The bill also contains help for vulnerable sectors, like the indigents, the unemployed, the and the displaced.

Proponents prized the “layering” strategy of the bill, wherein those who need help the most would receive the most layers of aid: For example, an unemployed and displaced Filipino will get the P2,000 aid, and the allotted aid for both the unemployed and the displaced.

The bill also contains the P54.6 billion inserted pension funds for retired uniformed personnel, which was slashed from the 2021 budget in late 2020.

The House only has 9 session days left until it adjourns in June. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.