Senate moves to extend Bayanihan law, expand Duterte powers
The Senate is moving to amend the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act to give President RodrigoDuterte more powers, such as the granting of wage and education subsidies, to help sectors affected by the health crisis caused by the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Bills filed by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto will both extend the law to Sept. 30, which Malacañang had said would be “ideal.”
Signed by Mr. Duterte in March, Republic Act No. 11469 gave the President special powers, such as realigning funds, to deal with the pandemic. It will expire on June 23.
Recto’s bill proposes to give the President a standby spending authority amounting to P600 billion. The release of the money would depend on the collection of increased revenue or available proceeds for approved borrowings.
The P600 billion will be used for emergency subsidy to workers (P30 billion), cash-for-work program (P20 billion), prevention and control of other diseases (P20 billion), large-scale COVID-19 testing (P10 billion), capital infusion to government banks (P70 billion), support programs for impacted sectors (P80 billion), support to the agricultural sector (P20 billion), and funding for realigned programs and projects (P350 billion).
“These interventions are being sought to soften the impact of a projected economic downturn, and to accelerate the socioeconomic recovery of the country,” Recto said.
Extending the Bayanihan law would allow the President to realign items in the national budget and exercise other authorities to provide emergency support to affected people, boost the country’s medical capacity, and implement other urgent projects to curb the spread of COVID-19, Zubiri said.
The additional powers for the President that Recto proposes include the grant of wage subsidies for a maximum of two months to critically impacted displaced workers, freelancers, the self-employed and repatriated overseas Filipino workers in industries directly affected by the pandemic.
It will authorize the President to extend education subsidies to students amounting to P3,000 to P8,000, and P5,000 to P8,000 for teaching and nonteaching staff in private schools facing financial difficulties due to the health crisis.
Where funds went
The President will be given the power to direct banks and other financial institutions and utility companies to implement a payment scheme for persons with multiple loans.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado welcomed moves in the Senate and House of Representatives to extend the Bayanihan law.
He said the administration will not seek a supplemental budget from Congress to fund the growing expenses in fighting COVID-19 after it had released P353.8 billion for the effort.
“For now, we cannot do that, because the supplemental budget requires new sources of revenue, and excess in tax collections. In both cases, there is none,” Avisado explained at a press briefing.
Avisado said the P353.8-billion fund had been released to various government agencies to support their responses to the outbreak of the severe respiratory disease.
Of that amount, P246 billion came from pooled savings, P96 billion from unprogrammed appropriations and P10 billion from reprogramming of existing expenditures.
Avisado said the Bayanihan law made the appropriations possible as it had authorized the President to realign, reallocate and reprogram both the 2019 and the 2020 budgets.
The P246 billion funded the financial assistance programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Agriculture.
It was also used as Bayanihan grants for cities, municipalities and provinces; the purchase of polymerase chain reaction test kits by the Department of Health (DOH); the augmentation of the Philippine General Hospital’s operating budget; and in maintaining treatment and monitoring facilities of the police and military.
The P96 billion funded the small business wage subsidy program of the Department of Finance and the DOH’s supplemental funding for the health sector which amounted to P45.7 billion.
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