CONGRESSMEN on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a third stimulus package worth more than P400 billion to help unemployed and hungry Filipinos amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Voting 238-0 with one abstention, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 9411 or the Bayanihan to Arise as One Bill, which many consider as a lifeline to suffering Filipinos. Few lawmakers were at the congressional building in Quezon City, with most voting online.

The House also approved on final reading a resolution seeking to ease foreign ownership limits in the 1987 Constitution. Congressmen will amend the 1987 Charter by inserting the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in clauses that limit foreign ownership in some sectors.

This will give lawmakers the leeway to pass laws that will lift the Charter change limits.

Bayanihan III’s approval is a “historical moment in the legislative process in this chamber as this measure has been co-authored by almost all of its members,” Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco said in a statement posted on the House website.

“Filipinos deserve all these interventions — urgently and immediately,” he said. “Bayanihan III offers a real lifeline for our countrymen struggling to navigate the challenges of COVID-19.”

The centerpiece of the proposed legislation is a P216-billion funding for two rounds of cash aid worth P2,000 to be given to 108 million Filipinos regardless of age and economic status.

The bill also allots wage subsidies and emergency assistance to quarantine-affected households and displaced workers. It also provides funds for national nutrition, and budgets for the agri-fishery sector and cooperatives, medical assistance to indigents, local government support, free COVID-testing for seamen and other migrant Filipino workers.

The bill also provides pensions and a gratuity fund for retired military and police personnel, as well as support for basic and higher education.

As many as 293 congressmen signed the measure as co-authors.

The Presidential Palace on Monday said the bill was not an urgent matter. Presidential Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. said the government should allow the 2021 national budget and previous economic packages to run their course before passing another stimulus measure.

The Senate counterpart bill, which the Palace had not certified as urgent, was still pending at the committee level.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III earlier said he had reservations about the billions of funds allotted for military and police pensions.

But Mr. Velasco said the P401-billion lifeline measure would ensure that Filipinos get direct emergency and social amelioration, have sustainable sources of income and stable access to affordable food and quality health services during the pandemic. — Norman P. Aquino