Palace says Bayanihan 2 bill to be signed by mid-Sept

THE SECOND law covering measures for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response will be signed not later than mid-September, Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said on Monday.

“I don’t think the first two weeks of September will pass without the bill being signed. I think they are aiming that the bill should be signed this week, next week at the latest,” he said in an online briefing.

The Bayanihan 2, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, was approved by Congress on August 24 and transmitted to the President’s office that week.

Mr. Roque said President Rodrigo R. Duterte is still consulting the different departments before he signs the bill into law. — Gillian M. Cortez 

Additional P5B budget sought for DAR’s ‘mega farms’ project

TWO SOLONS have proposed an additional P5 billion budget for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to support its “Mega Farms” project, which aims to consolidate farmers beneficiaries for more viable commercial production.

House Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte Jr., representing the Camarines Sur 2nd District, and Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Joseph T. Cabatbat backed DAR’s appeal for the additional allocation during Monday’s budget deliberation by the House of Representatives committee on appropriations.

DAR officials told the committee that they proposed a P32.96 billion budget for 2021, but the Department of Budget and Management granted only P8.85 billion.

DAR Undersecretary Bernie F. Cruz highlighted the importance of developing commercial farming through the Mega Farms project, citing that beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) have low productivity and many end up selling the parcel of land awarded to them.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, on the other hand, questioned DAR’s consolidation program saying this contradicts the CARP’s very policy of subdividing vast tracts of lands.

“We ask for foreign loans to parcelize (lands), then we will fund it again for consolidation?” Mr. Zarate said in Filipino.

Mr. Zarate was referring to the P24 billion loan package granted by the World Bank to help fund the Support to Parcelization of Lands to Individuals Titling (SPLIT) program.

DAR Undersecretary Luis Meinrado C. Pangulayan explained that the consolidation involves joining agri-venture arrangements.

“It will be better for them to join agri-venture arrangements in their capacity as owners with the specifics of the land they own. It will not be a legal or practical impediment for a farmer who owns land title to join mega farm activities,” he said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Bayan Muna not backing down on budget scrutiny

HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE Ferdinand R. Gaite of the Bayan Muna Party-list said nothing would stop them from “scrutinizing every penny, every nook and cranny” of the proposed 2021 budget despite the latest red-tagging of the government’s anti-insurgency task force.

“All porks will be revealed. No public money will be wasted.This is what we swore to do as representatives of the marginalized, no matter how Badoy calls us names,” he said.

He was referring to Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Marie T. Badoy, spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC).

A recent lengthy post on the NTF-ELCAC official Facebook page, shared by Ms. Badoy, alleges that lawmakers from the Makabayan Bloc are “high ranking officials” of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The post was made after Rep. Carlos Isagani T.  Zarate, also representing Bayan Muna, questioned last Friday the proposed P16.44 billion allocation for NTF-ELCAC, which he described as “pork.”

“They will be the one to certify and distribute (the funds). This is worse than the pork barrel of lawmakers. They will dispense P20 million per barangay. Can you imagine that?” Mr. Zarate said in Filipino.

Earlier, Bayan Muna also questioned the new definition of savings in the proposed 2021 national budget, which was added in Section 67 of the General Provisions of the National Expenditure Program, saying that it gives the President a “blank cheque” and undermines Congressional oversight.

Similar to Section 4 of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the new definition will allow the executive branch of government to repurpose funds in “case of a declaration of a state of national calamity” as in the coronavirus outbreak.

“It erases the concept of separation of powers as well as checks and balances,” Bayan Muna said in a Viber message to reporters on Monday

The group told BusinessWorld separately that the Makabayan Bloc, which is composed of several party-lists, will soon “reveal” big chunks of pork that some government agencies have included in their budget proposals. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza