Bicam agrees in principle to shorten loan moratorium period under Bayanihan 2

The House of Representatives' contingent to the bicameral conference committee approved "in principle" to shorten their proposed one-year loan moratorium under the Bayanihan to Recover As One bill to a maximum of just 60 days.

This was among the initial agreements between the House and the Senate contingents to the bicam as they began threshing out the conflicting provisions of their respective Bayanihan 2 bills on Friday, August 14.

Lawmakers met through teleconferencing app Zoom to observe physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Senate version of Bayanihan 2 allows a "minimum of a 30-day grace period" for loan payments, but the House bill directs banks and other financial institutions to implement a "one-year or 365-day grace period" for the payment of all loans. 

But bicam member and Zamboanga Sibugay 1st District Representative Wilter Wee Palma II told Rappler that the House contingent agreed "in essence" to shorten the loan moratorium so it would "not exceed 60 days."

This was echoed by Senator Sonny Angara, who said both chambers are still finalizing the details on the grace period but agreed "in principle it will not exceed 60 days."

Business groups vehemently opposed the House's proposed one-year loan moratorium under Bayanihan 2, arguing it would further crash the economy that is already reeling from the effects of the pandemic. 

The Bayanihan 2 aims to extend the validity of the special powers Congress earlier granted to President Rodrigo Duterte to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Both the House and Senate versions provide a comprehensive list of 64 "interventions" that the executive branch is expected to undertake to beef up its response to the pandemic.

These include setting a COVID-19 testing protocol for vulnerable sectors, as well as providing subsidies to low-income families and sectors heavily affected by the pandemic. 

Both chambers proposed a multi-billion-peso standby fund to finance the Duterte government's COVID-19 response and recovery programs. But the House pegs the amount at P162 billion, much higher than the Senate's P140 billion. 

Senators decided to stick to P140 billion because the Department of Finance said the government cannot fund anything more that.

The bicam met on Friday for around 5 hours, but both Palma and Angara said they have yet to settle the contentious provisions regarding the standby fund.

Palma said the bicam is set to tackle these issues in their next meeting on Monday, August 17. 

"Insofar as other matters, we already have agreements, like for example, the cash subsidies and all. But we have not yet tackled on how much would be given, where it's going to be sourced, because the appropriations on these matters are in the latter part of the bill," Palma said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Angara said the bicam is also yet to discuss the controversial Accelerating Recovery to Intensify Solidarity and Equity Incorporated or Arise Inc that both the House and Senate versions are proposing.

"We have not gotten to the part on Arise yet. That's towards the end of the measure. We are about halfway through," he said.

Arise Inc is a state-backed holding company which would authorize the Development Bank of the Philippines and Landbank to enter into joint venture agreements with struggling businesses.

The resulting joint venture company would enjoy exemptions from procurement and competition laws, as well as tax exemptions and fee privileges.

But the Philippine Competition Commission already issued a warning against Arise Inc, arguing it may distort the market and encourage anticompetitive behavior.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III disowned the provisions on Arise Inc and said these did not come from Duterte's economic team. – with reports from JC Gotinga/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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