The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act provides additional funds for the government’s response against the coronavirus pandemic. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

THE Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a measure touted as part of the government’s economic recovery plan.

With 22 affirmative votes and one negative, the chamber approved Senate Bill No. 1564 or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II) which extends certain powers to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to deal with the pandemic and allocates P140 billion for recovery efforts.

The Senate’s final approval comes a day after Mr. Duterte asked Congress to pass Bayanihan II, among other measures, during Monday’s State of the Nation Address.

“This health emergency stretched the government’s resources to its limits,” Mr. Duterte said on Monday, noting the measure will “supplement funds for recovery and response against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Senator Francis N. Pangilinan cited the alleged rampant corruption within the Department of Health (DoH) as one of the reasons why he voted against Bayanihan II’s passage.

“Of the first 26 interventions listed by the law… as necessary to effectively combat the pandemic, 13 or half of these needed interventions are placed on the shoulders of the DoH,” Mr. Pangilinan said in explaining his negative vote. “I’m afraid that under the mediocre leadership displayed consistently since the pandemic hit us, none of these 13 interventions will be met or achieved and billions of funds will be spent yet again.”

He pointed out that nearly five months since the implementation of the Luzon-wide lockdown, the government has failed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, the DoH reported 83,673 coronavirus infections, 26,400 recoveries and 1,947 deaths. 

The Bayanihan II extends the programs under the first Bayanihan law that allowed Mr. Duterte to realign items from the budget and grant emergency subsidies to low-income households during the lockdown.

It also retained provisions that eased procurement processes for equipment deemed essential during the pandemic, allowed local government units to use at least 5% of their calamity fund, and grant a grace period for loans and rent payment.

A total of P140 billion will be used to buy testing and extraction kits along with other medical supplies, implement a cash-for-work program for displaced workers, and provide benefits to repatriated overseas Filipino workers.

A total of P50 billion will go to the Landbank of the Philippines (P30 billion), Development Bank of the Philippines (P15 billion), and the Philippine Guarantee Corp. (P5 billion) as capital infusion to allow them to boost lending for micro, small and medium enterprises.

The agriculture and transportation sectors will each receive P17 billion, while the tourism industry and education sector will also receive P10 billion and P3 billion, respectively.

House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said the members of the House will be consulted as soon as possible on whether to adopt the Senate version once it is transmitted.

“We have not seen the approved final version of the Senate. But whether to adopt the senators’ version is a decision to be made by the majority of our colleagues,” Mr. Romualdez said in a phone message to BusinessWorld.

“We will consult as soon as possible to represent the overwhelming views of the congressmen on the matter.”

Meanwhile, the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee approved House Bill No. 6795 or the “Government Financial Institutions Unified Incentives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) Act.” It was scheduled to be endorsed at the plenary on Tuesday afternoon.

If enacted, the measure will increase the maximum loan guarantee coverage per borrower to benefit MSMEs affected by the pandemic. It also expands loan assistance programs, rediscounting and other credit accommodation facilities of the LANDBANK, DBP, Small Business Corporation and Agriculture Credit Policy Council. — Charmaine A. Tadalan