THE PRESIDENT has been urged to call Congress in from its break to pass a third stimulus bill that will distribute more aid to those affected by the renewed quarantine following a surge in coronavirus infections.

“I urge the President to call a special session of Congress to pass the proposed Bayanihan III and expand the government’s cash subsidy program amid the spike in COVID-19 cases,” Senator Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement Tuesday.

He was referring to the third of the stimulus packages, known as Bayanihan III, for which legislation is pending in both houses of Congress. Legislators are currently on break until May 17.

Mr. Drilon said the strictest phase of the 2020 lockdown left millions out of work and without means to buy food, after unemployment spiked to 17.7%.

“This is the situation that we have to prepare for. We cannot let another 7.6 million Filipino families go hungry this year. Our inaction or delayed action can make another 7.3 million Filipinos lose their jobs again this month. We cannot let businesses permanently shut down,” he said.

In a radio interview Tuesday, Mr. Drilon said some funds in the national budget could be realigned to fortify the pandemic response, targeting in particular the P19-billion anti-insurgency fund and the P9.5-billion confidential and intelligence funds.

Wala na raw extension dahilan wala nang pera. Sa akin, mali iyan. Dapat bigyan ng ayuda ang ating mga kababayan dahilan sa sila ay naghihirap dahilan naman sa hindi maayos na pagpapatakbo nitong pandemic response (There will be no more third Bayanihan because there is no more money. That’s a mistake. We need to aid people who are suffering because of the poor management of the pandemic),” he said in an interview with DZRH.

Kailangan tugunan ito. Sa akin, kailangang tumawag ng special session ang Pangulo para po matugunan ito. Mag-realign ng mga items na hindi kailangan (This needs to be addressed with a special session, to realign funding from unnecessary programs),” he added.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said that the plan to call for a special session is positive but noted that the Department of Budget and Management has said there are no funds available.

“Our best option is to have a sense of urgency and allow the private sector more participation with better flexibility in the vaccination program — true to the government’s ‘whole-of-nation approach’ theme, which is turning out to be a platitude and lip service,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Lacson also said that if Bayanihan III is passed, both the national and local governments “must get their act together” to update the database of aid recipients.

Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco said in a statement that the House will comply and convene a special session if the Palace certifies Bayanihan III as urgent.

He said the measures related to Bayanihan III are pending at the economic affairs and social services committee and the panel will have finished studying it by the resumption of session in May.

“However, if Malacañang certifies the bill as urgent, we will comply,” he said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte initially placed Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March 29 to April 4 and extended it until April 11 to curb the spike in coronavirus infections.

The government’s current aid plan is to provide P1,000 per person and up to P4,000 per household in areas under ECQ.

The President’s spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said in an online briefing Monday that the subsidy is not enough, but cited Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado in describing it as a “one-time” aid measure.

Senator Ralph G. Recto in December filed Senate Bill No. 1953 or the proposed Bayanihan to Rebuild as One Act, calling for P485 billion to support the recovering economy and to mitigate the impact of the late-2020 typhoons. This was a counterpart measure to the bill filed by Marikina Representative Stella Luz A. Quimbo in November, providing some P400 billion.

The Senate bill proposes to allocate some P100 billion for wage subsidies to employers to keep their workforces employed, and P100 billion for capacity-building in hard hit sectors. It sets aside P70 billion for a further round of Social Amelioration Program cash handouts and P20 billion for households affected by the typhoons.

Senator Emmanuel D. Pacquiao last month filed a P335-billion stimulus bill, with P100 billion in aid earmarked for low-income individuals. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas