The House of Representatives on Friday approved on third reading a measure providing P1.5-trillion for infrastructure projects over three years, intended as a program to minimize unemployment.

However, the executive branch weighed in by saying that such amounts cannot be funded without new sources of revenue, and expressed hopes for a reduced package when the legislation is reworked in bicameral session.

With 210 affirmative votes, seven negatives and no abstentions, House Bill No. 6920, the “COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES)” Act of 2020 has hurdled the chamber. It is intended to address workers displaced by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

The bill will establish a special fund focused on infrastructure projects in key priority areas, such as health, education,aAgriculture, local roads and infrastructure, and Livelihood.

It will appropriate P500 billion annually for three years, which Congress may later extend, modify or terminate.

“Infrastructure projects would include barangay health centers, municipal and city hospitals, digital equipment for COVID-19 testing, telemedicine services to post-harvest facilities, trading centers, and farm-to-market roads,” Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said during the session.

The bill was one of the anti-COVID-19 measures approved by the chamber before it adjourned on June 5, which also includes the P1.3 trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (also known as the proposed ARISE Philippines Act).

ARISE Philippines focuses on protecting workers, including those engaged in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the government has no funds to support stimulus packages pending in the House and Senate.

“We are in discussion with the congressmen that such an amount would not be fundable because any supplemental budget or standby appropriations would require new revenue sources and that is very limited and financing or borrowing is not a revenue source,” Mr. Chua said in an online briefing on Friday when asked if the stimulus bills, amounting to around P1 trillion, proposed in both chambers of Congress can be funded.

“They will have to meet in the bicam to address those concerns,” he added. — Charmaine A. Tadalan