House draft bill eyes P20-B fund for mass testing for economic recovery
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives Defeat COVID-19 subcommittee on the economic stimulus package is proposing a P20 billion budget for mass testing to facilitate faster economic recovery and a safe working environment amid the pandemic.
According to the draft bill of the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act of 2020 (Pesa), the massive testing will be done in “places and business activities in the country where the higher possibility of transmission of COVID-19 may occur or have occurred.”
House Committee on Economic Affairs chair Rep. Sharon Garin said Tuesday that massive testing through local government units and agencies is the “general intervention” for economic recovery under the draft measure.
“Kasi bakit hindi gumagana ‘yung mga negosyo ngayon (Why are businesses not working now)? Dahil natatakot ang mga tao lumabas ng bahay nila. They dont want to get out of their house. They don’t want to buy anything or [avail] of any service,” she said in a virtual meeting.
“We have to build consumer confidence, and testing can drastically help that,” she added.
Under the draft bill, the Department of Health (DOH) should adopt COVID-19 disease surveillance protocols, including testing and contact tracing, that will define minimum health standards for workplaces and business activities.
The DOH should also procure and distribute the test kits for COVID-19, including facilities, equipment, and necessary supplies, and should hire medical personnel for proper implementation of the disease surveillance protocols in testing sites.
Under the proposed measure, testing kits will be made available to local government units and government agencies for distribution to the public and private institutions and enterprises.
“The LGUs and other government agencies, under the guidance and supervision of the DOH, shall adopt the disease surveillance protocol, conduct area-based, and workplace testing, and monitor compliance with the minimum health standards prescribed by the DOH to protect the continued health of the general public, and ensure that there will be safe re-assumption of work in the private and government sector, the delivery of government functions and services, and economic activity in all the industries in the country,” read the draft measure.
Aside from the mass testing, the House Defeat COVID-19 subcommittee is also mapping out other interventions for economic recovery, such as transitional, financial, sectoral, and structural interventions.
Under transitional interventions being proposed are wage subsidies, cash for work, assistance to students, Philhealth relief for overseas Filipino workers, loan extension, regulatory relief, and regularization of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
It also plans to extend credit mediation and refinancing, loans for MSMEs, providing zero or negative interest loans, and loan guarantees.
The subcommittee likewise plans to pave the way for assistance to MSMEs, tourism sector, import and export industries, and the transportation industry.
The draft bill is still subject to changes, said Garin.
Meanwhile, Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo said that the economic stimulus package of the government should already be in place as soon as the economy is reopened.
She noted, however, that there are two main obstacles in reopening the economy: liquidity concerns of firms and the “fear factor” especially among workers since they are still afraid to go to offices due to the threats of COVID-19.
The Pesa bill is a consolidated version of measures filed by Quimbo and Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda, which is aimed at averting business closures and restoring business confidence and operations.
Some P1.3 trillion is being eyed as an economic stimulus under the measure to help the country’s economy recover from the impacts of the pandemic.
“The consolidated bill is about protecting workers by way of two things: one is to ensure that business continue and number two, equally important, is to revive business and consumer confidence,” said Quimbo.
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