THE House of Representatives on Monday gave final approval for the P162-billion fiscal stimulus measure, which includes providing much-needed financial aid for sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.

With 242 affirmative votes, six negative votes and zero abstention, the chamber approved on third reading House Bill No. 6953, or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” (Bayanihan II).

The bill prioritizes support for the healthcare sector, small businesses, low-income households and unemployed individuals, including displaced overseas Filipino workers.

“We want Bayanihan II to be a living piece of legislation that will power our industries and revitalize sectors of society that have been decimated by this virus, or were otherwise forgotten and neglected in the past,” House Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said during Monday’s session.

The P162 billion allotted under the House version is higher than the P145-billion standby fund under Senate Bill No. 1564.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said he is in favor of increasing the funding, provided the government has resources.

“The House version is around P165 billion; but then I understand there was some amendments that were proposed in the budget supposed to be for the Department of Tourism, naalis (was removed),” he added.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III earlier said the government is ready to spend P140 billion for an economic stimulus plan this year, saying this would “keep our fiscal deficit in a manageable zone.”

Mr. Sotto noted the Bicameral Conference Committee that will reconcile the two versions may convene any time this week.

If enacted, President Duterte will be allowed to realign items in the 2019 and 2020 national budget as well as ease procurement processes for medical equipment and supplies among others. The bill will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2020.

The measure will also continue to grant the P5,000-8,000 subsidy for low-income households in areas under enhanced community quarantine.

Around P20 billion will be used to continue cash-for-work programs for displaced workers, and another P20 billion for the agriculture sector.

A total of P50 billion will also be provided as capital infusion to government financial institutions, which will support state-owned banks as well as fund credit guarantee program and lending programs to MSMEs.

The bill allocates P10 billion to the expanded testing and confinement of COVID-19 patients, and another P10 billion for healthcare workers.

Some P3 billion will be used to procure face masks and personal protective equipment and P4 billion for the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities.

Mr. Cayetano said that while the Bayanihan II will boost various sectors hit by the Luzon-wide lockdown, the country will need a roadmap to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“It takes more than just a law to get things going. We need both a roadmap for the familiar places we need to go, and to blaze a trail out of the wilderness when we get lost,” he said. “We need a pragmatic plan that can be funded and implemented effectively.” — C.A.Tadalan