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Bicameral panel approves Bayanihan II of up to P165B

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PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

THE Bicameral Conference Committee has harmonized the Bayanihan II legislation, paving the way for both chambers to ratify the government’s economic recovery plan by next week at the latest.

The “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” provides for P140 billion in funding to various hard-hit sectors and P25-billion in standby appropriations, bringing the total to P165 billion.

“We stuck to the P140 billion for the regular appropriations, then there’s a standby appropriations of P25 billion if the funds become available, meaning if magkaroon ng (they find) savings or additional revenue sources,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Juan Edgardo M. Angara said at an online briefing Thursday.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a phone message that he expects the bill to be ratified also on Thursday. House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a separate message the chamber will ratify the bill “immediately next week.”

The measure grants President Rodrigo R. Duterte special powers to redirect funding from the 2019 and 2020 budgets to the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) containment effort and related aid and stimulus programs.

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The bill will continue to provide P5,000-8,000 worth cash assistance, only this time it will focus on hard-hit sectors unable to benefit from the first Bayanihan law.

“It’s more of a support program for impacted sectors and cash-for-work for those who were under extended lockdown and affected workers, dahil maraming nagsabing hindi nakatanggap sa Bayanihan I (Many have said they received nothing under Bayanihan I). Sila ‘yung bibigyan priority (We’ll give them priority),” he said.

The panel also allocated P4.5 billion for isolation and quarantine facilities as well as dormitories for frontliners; P5 billion for contact tracing and P3 billion for personal protective equipment.

It will also provide P8.9 billion in additional funding for the education sector, P13 billion for displaced workers and P9.5 billion for the transportation industry.

Some P10 billion worth of funding was also set for the procurement of vaccines approved by the World Health Organization. Mr. Angara said this will allow the government to begin the procurement process ahead of the completion of the drugs’ phase 4 trials.

He noted, however, that distribution of the vaccine will not go ahead unless the vaccine passes all trials.

Among the contentious items settled was the P10 billion in funding for the tourism industry, which Senate Bill No. 1564 allocated to the Department of Tourism for assistance to hard-hit businesses. House Bill No. 6953, meanwhile, proposed to use the same amount for tourism infrastructure.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, a member of the panel, said the Senate contingent had offered to compromise by allocating P1 billion to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and retain the remaining funds for enterprise aid.

Eventually, he said it was agreed that P1 billion be allocated to tourism infrastructure, provided that projects are handled by the Department of Public Works and Highways, instead of TIEZA. A total of P3 billion will assist displaced workers, through the labor department, and P6 billion worth of soft loans for micro, small and medium enterprises.

The panel also agreed that provisions in Bayanihan II specific to banking institutions, which were included in the House bill, will be legislated separately with a commitment from the Senate that the matter will be tackled immediately.

Sa amin, hindi man lang na-take up ‘yan (In the Senate, it was not even taken up)… You’re going to pass a law that will affect the banking system, at the very least, we should hear,” Mr. Angara said.

“Sen. Grace said she’s willing to help hearings ASAP to at least prioritize,” he added. Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares chairs the banks and financial intermediaries committee.

He is referring to the Government Financial Institution Strategic Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery bill, which was approved at the House committee level. The bill creates an entity called the Accelerating Recovery to Intensify Solidarity and Equity, Inc. which will help companies address solvency issues.

Meanwhile, the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer bill will allow transfer of bad loans to asset management companies. This legislation is similar to the Special Purpose Vehicle Act, signed in 2002, in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

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