The House of Representatives gave its final nod to the bill extending the validity of President Rodrigo Duterte’s special powers to respond to the coronavirus crisis, including the use of a P162-billion standby fund valid until end-2020.
On Monday, August 10, a total of 242 lawmakers voted yes to House Bill No. 6953 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act during its 3rd and final reading.
Only the 6 legislators from the progressive Makabayan bloc voted against the bill. They are as follows:
No lawmaker abstained from the vote.
The measure, dubbed Bayanihan 2, provides 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 aid to those in the transport and tourism industries critically affected by the crisis.
The 64 interventions adopted the 30 special powers that the first Bayanihan law originally granted to Duterte.
The House version would allot P162 billion – sourced primarily from off-budget government savings and tax collections – to fund the Duterte government’s programs aimed at combating COVID-19.
Both chambers also set different dates for the expiry of Bayanihan 2: September 30 for the Senate and December 31 for the House.
This means a bicameral conference committee would have to be convened so contingents from both chambers can reconcile the conflicting provisions in their respective Bayanihan 2 bills.
The bicam is expected to meet later this week.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano addressed the plenary before Bayanihan 2's approval, describing the bill as a "living piece of legislation" that would "revitalize" sectors severely affected by the pandemic.
He said Bayanihan 2 primarily aims to help those in the agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing sectors get back on their feet.
"Bayanihan 2 is more than just an enumeration of benefits to certain sectors. It is a reaffirmation of the spirit of cooperation [and] community our race is famous for," Cayetano said.
He previously said he wants the Duterte government to turn provinces into “new centers of development” to help the country recover from the crippling COVID-19 pandemic.
Bayan Muna's Zarate, also one of the House's deputy minority leaders, doubts Bayanihan 2 would boost the Duterte government’s strategy to fight the pandemic, with COVID-19 cases in the country totaling over 129,000 as of Sunday, August 9.
The progressive lawmaker said increasing the funds would not work if the Philippines is still not conducting mass testing and swift contact tracing of suspected cases. (READ: Pandemic unravels Duterte's 2016 promise of decisive leadership)
“Until now, the government has not yet put in place an effective contact tracing strategy, and our entire healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. So why enact another version of a law when the first one has not been fully used or utilized for its intended purposes?” asked Zarate.
He then warned that Malacañang may just end up taking advantage of the multibillion-peso fund under Bayanihan 2.
"This will just concentrate more power and funds to Malacañang. Worse, it may even be funneled to also fund the campaign kitty of Malacañang's allies for the upcoming elections,” Zarate said.
Both the House and the Senate versions of Bayanihan 2 would provide a one-month emergency subsidy to qualified low-income households who were not able to get the first tranche of cash aid granted to 18 million families.
The bills 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 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.
In the House version, the P162-billion standby fund for COVID-19 response is broken down as follows: