SENATE MAJORITY Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said that the Senate may not be able to pass all priority measures such as the economic stimulus act and the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE) before Congress adjourns next week due to the limited number of session days left, adding that the upper chamber will be prioritizing the bill extending the validity of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Law instead.

“Out of practicality, I don’t think we will be able to finish all these measures in three working days…. because these are very important and very tedious topics that we really need to concentrate on per sector. So what we have on the table that we will tackle next week is the extension of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” he said during a virtual joint hearing of the Senate committees on Finance and Economic Affairs on Friday.

Mr. Zubiri said the Malacañang will issue a certificate of urgency to extend the law.

“I called up our contacts in the Palace, I was told that they will issue a certification on the measure. They’re just waiting for the committee report from the chairperson,” he said.

The Bayanihan law allowed President Rodrigo R. Dueterte to realign the budget for anti-COVID-19 measures. Under the law, low-income households were supposed to get as much as P8,000 in monthly cash aid for two months.

Senate Bill (SB) 1546 seeks to extend the effectivity of the law — which will expire next month — until September. Its counterpart measure, House Bill 6811, was also filed in the lower chamber.

“On the issue of PESA (Philippine Economic Stimulus Act) and CREATE, we are also looking into it, prioritizing it, but it is a little bit more complicated so it may take a bit longer in terms of discussions and debate in the Senate,” Mr. Zubiri said.

PESA, a measure currently pending for second reading in the House of Representatives, seeks to inject P1.3-trillion into the economy between 2020 to 2023 to help workers and businesses cope with the impact of the pandemic.

The CREATE bill, also deemed urgent, is being repurposed as a stimulus measure and accelerates the timetable for bringing down corporate income tax to 25% from the current 30% by July.

At least four stimulus packages have been filed at the Senate to address COVID-19: SB 1417 (P108 billion), SB 1449 (P370 billion), SB 1542 (P548 billion for 2020, P80 billion for 2021), and SB 1561 (P600 billion). The upper chamber has yet to agree on a specific amount and consolidate these measures.

Meanwhile, representatives from various sectors have aired their struggles during the pandemic and proposed several measures for consideration by the committees.

Film Development Council of the Philippines Chairperson Mary Liza Diño-Seguerra asked for the inclusion of film businesses in the targeted mass testing and subsidy efforts of the government, saying that thousands of audio-visual workers are now unemployed.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Chairperson Danilo Ramos asked that farmers, fishermen, and other agricultural workers be included in the bill for subsidies and zero interest loans. The amount is projected to hit up to P400 billion.

Defend Jobs Philippines Spokesperson Thadeus Ifurung proposed to ban layoffs in the next three months and an additional P30,000 subsidy for those rendered jobless during the pandemic.

Philippine Liner Shipping Association President Mark Matthew F. Parco also asked for government support, saying there has been a 70% drop in cargo volume, while passenger volume has dropped by 90%.

Ateneo School of Government Dean Ronald U. Mendoza said that the government should focus on boosting the country’s health capacity and set aside the CREATE bill until the crisis subsides.

“Our suggestion is to delay implementation of… CREATE. On paper, these reforms, in a world not in crisis and if done right, might help boost the country’s competitiveness. A strong healthcare system and social protection system underpinning the recovery and providing a credible assurance of coverage for all citizens… will also be critical in backstopping the psychology of recovery. That should be the main focus of our stimulus and crisis recovery effort,” he said. — Genshen L. Espedido