House one step away from passing P1.3-trillion stimulus package vs pandemic

The House of Representatives passed on second reading the P1.3-trillion stimulus package aiming to help combat the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy. 

On Monday, June 1, lawmakers approved House Bill 6815 or the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) through viva voce voting or a vote of ayes and nays. 

With the 18th Congress set to adjourn session by Friday, June 5, the House is set to hold an extra session day on Thursday, June 4, to pass on final reading the PESA measure and other bills that would boost the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Congress usually holds plenary sessions Mondays to Wednesdays only.

The proposed economic stimulus package is allotting P1.3 trillion in the next 4 years to fund massive COVID-19 testing of Filipino workers as well as offer wage subsidies and zero interest loans to micro, small, and medium enterprises. 

A total of P586 billion would be allotted for 2020, while P80 billion will be set aside in 2021.  

Another P650 billion would be spaced over 3 years starting 2021 to enhance the government's Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.

If passed into law, the PESA bill would also set aside P20 billion to shoulder the COVID-19 tests of millions of Filipino laborers in 2020 and 2021.  

The P1.3 trillion fund would be sourced from off-budget accounts or government agencies' income from operations. This is allowed under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gave President Rodrigo Duterte special powers to address the pandemic. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Philippines has recorded a total of 18,638 cases of COVID-19, 960 of which were fatal. Still, 3,979 patients have already recovered from the disease.

RT-PCR test for vulnerable sectors

On Monday, the House also approved on second reading the bill requiring the government to also prioritize the following "vulnerable" sectors for COVID-19 testing using the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kit:

  • Filipinos returning to work and who have preexisting medical conditions
  • Filipinos and foreigners entering the Philippines from abroad

The cost of testing for Filipinos covered by House Bill 6865 would be shouldered by the government through the COVID Testing Assistance Fund, where the amount would be charged to either the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the Department of Health’s Medical Assistance Program, or the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Medical Assistance Fund.

But foreigners would have to shoulder the cost of their own test.

The RT-PCR test kits use swabs from patients taken from the nose or throat to determine the actual presence of the coronavirus and if a person is currently infected. (READ: FAST FACTS: What's the difference between PCR, rapid antibody tests?)

An imported RT-PCR test kit costs between P3,000 and P8,000, while the COVID-19 test kit developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) costs much lower, between P2,700 and P3,000. The local test kits, however, are yet to be mass produced.  Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives 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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