House panel OKs Bayanihan 2 bill, P162-B standby fund for pandemic response

The House committee of the whole has passed a bill on the country's coronavirus response and recovery plan, which includes a P162-billion standby fund valid until September. 

Past 10:20 pm on Wednesday, June 3, the House plenary convened itself into the committee fo the whole – meaning it is composed of all 302 legislators – to swiftly pass House Bill (HB) No. 6953 or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.”

Just a mere 20 minutes later, the committee of the whole unanimously approved the bill also known as Bayani 2.

The measure provides a comprehensive list of 64 “interventions” that the executive branch is expected to undertake to combat the pandemic – from setting a COVID-19 testing protocol for vulnerable sectors to providing aid to those in the transport and tourism industries critically affected by the health crisis.  

The criminal provision, however, was deleted under the Bayanihan 2 bill.

Malacañang earlier wanted Congress to extend the Bayanihan Act, but the Bayanihan 2 bill is not an emergency powers bill.

This is because the Constitution states that emergency powers granted by Congress to the President will cease once session adjourns. Lawmakers decided to remove provisions that could be interpreted as granting Duterte emergency powers because Congress is set to adjourn session sine die on Friday, June 5. 

Just like the Senate version, HB 6953 would provide a one-month emergency subsidy to qualified low income households who were not able to avail of the first tranche of cash aid granted to 18 million familes.  

The bill would also direct government financial institutions to provide loans, subsidies, discounts, and grants for the purchase of electronic gadgets as schools shift to distance learning. 

Displaced workers, including probationary, contractual, and casual workers, would also be given unemployment or involuntary separation assistance worth P10,000. Teaching and non-teaching personnel would also be granted a one-time cash assistance worth P10,000.

Students who are not receiving any educational subsidy from the government but who are now facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic would also receive tuition subsidy. 

The Bayanihan 2 bill would continue pushing for the COVID-19 testing of vulnerable sectors currently prioritized by the Department of the Health through the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing method. 

With the government still struggling with contact tracing, HB 6953 would allow the government to tap the following as as additional barangay health workers: parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and members of accredited civil society organizations.

There’s still a long way to go before Bayanihan 2 becomes a law, however.

With adjournment set on Friday, both the House and the Senate have only two days to separately pass their respective versions on 3rd and final reading, settle conflicting provisions, ratify the final bill as one Congress, then send the final enrolled bill to Duterte for signing.

The process would be expedited if the House would adopt the Senate version, like what the lower chamber had cone with the initial Bayanihan law. It would be further fasttracked if Duterte certifies the bill as urgent, as this would allow the House to approve the Bayanihan 2 on 2nd and 3rd readings on the same day.

Funding the pandemic response 

The Bayanihan 2 bill seeks to allot a P162-billion standby fund to be sourced mostly from off-budget government savings and tax collections. 

The Senate version, however, sets the amount only at P140 billion because the Department of Finance said the government cannot fund anything more that.

The standby COVID-19 response fund under the House’s Bayanihan 2 bill is broken down as follows:

  • P12 billion: Procurement of RT-PCR testing and extraction kits, supplies, and reagents
  • P18 billion: Cash-for-work programs and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program
  • P5 billion: DSWD’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation Program
  • P21 billion: Unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced employees
  • P5 billion: Credit guarantee program of the Philippine Guarantee Corporation
  • P30 billion: Low interest loans to be offered by Land Bank of the Philippines
  • P15 billion: lLow interest loans to be offered by the Development Bank of the Philippines
  • P21 billion: Direct cash subsidies and interest-free loans for farmers and fisherfolk
  • P21 billion: Department of Transportation’s assistance to transport sector
  • P10 billion: Department of Tourism’s assistance to tourism sector
  • P3 billion: Assistance to state colleges and universities to develop smart campuses
  • P1 billion: Assistance to Technical Education and Skills Development Authority training institutions for the develpoment of smart campuses 

How would the government fund the Bayanihan 2? Much of it would be primarily sourced from the unprogrammed funds and savings under the P4.1-trillion budget of 2020. This will be augmented by savings pooled from the previous Bayanihan law as well as all funds and investments held by any government-owned or -controlled corporation or national government agency.

The Bayanihan 2 law would also be funded using excess and new revenue collections, the 5% franchise tax on gaming earnings, and all applicable taxes imposed on offshore gaming operators and service provides. 

If passed into law, the Bayanihan 2 would be effective until September 30, unless Congress decides to extend it. – 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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