House committee approves P568-billion PESA bill

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A BILL PROPOSING a P568-billion stimulus package to help workers and businesses deal with the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic made it past committee level, a senior legislator said.

“The PESA bill has been approved at the Economic Stimulus Sub-committee and submitted to the Defeat COVID-19 Committee. Pending for second reading,” Marikina Rep. and Co-chair of the House Economic Stimulus Cluster Stella Luz A. Quimbo told BusinessWorld in a Viber message on Monday.

She was referring to the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), a still-unnumbered substitute bill which consolidated 10 House bills seeking to address the revival of the economy after the pandemic.

The committee report on the bill has been submitted to the House committee on rules to schedule a second reading.

The bill is much larger than the proposed P130–P160 billion recovery program proposed by the government’s economic team.

The bill proposes mass testing to “facilitate faster economic recovery and ensure a safe working environment.” The bill appropriates P10 billion this year and another P10 billion in 2021 for this application.

The bill also classifies economic measures to address COVID-19 as transitional, financial, sectoral and structural interventions.

Transitional interventions are to be implemented immediately after the lockdown ends to prevent permanent damage to the economy. These include wage subsidies worth P110 billion for critical businesses, the self-employed, freelancers and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

The bill also provides P30 billion for temporary employment to displaced workers through the expansion of the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Displaced/Disadvantaged Workers (TUPAD) program. Regulatory relief for all business entities in the form of the suspension or waiver of fees for licensing and payment deadlines is also included.

The measure also allocates P18 billion for the emergency subsidy to COVID-19-affected tertiary students in private higher education institutions.

Financial interventions are economic relief intended to accelerate recovery and improve economic performance of businesses by broadening and increasing financial and credit access. These include the creation of credit mediation and restructuring service (CMRS) to act as credit advisers and mediators between micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and banks; P50 billion expansion of existing loan programs for MSMEs of the Small Business Corp. (SB Corp); and the introduction of interest-free loans by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

The measure also provides for a loan guarantee program by the Philippine Guarantee Corp., which will receive P40 billion as a “special guarantee fund” to small firms for 2020. The allocation for 2021 is P20 billion.

Sectoral interventions are relief measures intended for MSMEs, tourism establishments, farms and fishing communities, and other critical businesses.

These include the P10 billion in MSME assistance via the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), a P66-billion agri-fishery sector assistance program via the Department of Agriculture (DA), a P58-billion program for tourism assistance via the Department of Tourism, P44 billion worth of trade assistance from the Board of Investments, and P75 billion in transportation assistance via the Department of Transportation.

Structural interventions are designed to “accommodate, close gaps in, or improve any sector or industry” to reinforce the resiliency of businesses in the event of future crises or recessions. These include the allocation of P25 billion this year to the National Development Co. (NDC) to “minimize permanent damage to the economy” and P650 billion for three years starting 2021 for an enhanced “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program.

The bill also requires the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to submit to Congress a long-term plan for building economic resilience within six months after the lifting of the various forms of quarantine. It also creates an Economic Stimulus Board (ESB) to identify the components of the fiscal stimulus package, and monitor the delivery of each intervention.

The measure also authorizes the President to reallocate and realign the General Appropriations Acts of 2019 and 2020, and allocate cash, funds and investments held by any government-owned or controlled corporations or any national government agency to provide funding support for the measure.

It also orders the Department of Budget and Management to identify programs, projects, and activities which cannot be implemented effectively as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. — Genshen L. Espedido