House okays P162-billion stimulus

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives passed on second reading a P162-billion economic stimulus package, allocating P10 billion for COVID-19 health insurance coverage, P51 billion for capital infusion to government lending institutions and P20 billion for the cash-for-work program.

Called the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, the 302-member chamber’s proposal, docketed as House Bill No. 6953, is P22 billion higher than the version passed by the Senate in July with a P140 billion standby fund.

“In reality, P162 billion is not enough. In fact, the Senate passed P140 billion … This body feels the national government can afford P162 billion—that’s why we’re passing it,” said Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., the bill sponsor.

Responding to questions by Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., Villafuerte said the next step after Bayanihan II was to “work closely with the government to raise revenues.”

“We can call this Stimulus 1 but we will definitely need Stimulus 2 and Stimulus 3,” said the Camarines Sur lawmaker.

The bill also allocates P20 billion for low-interest credit for the agriculture sector and P10.5 billion for the hiring of additional health-care workers and arrangements for risk allowance, life insurance, compensation, and compensation for death and critical illness.

Another P3 billion will be used to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-liners and indigents.

The bill is a follow-up to Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which the new measure will repeal once enacted. That law gave President Duterte wide latitude to realign funds in the 2020 budget, including P200 billion for the cash assistance program.

The new package will be effective until Dec. 31.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House ways and means panel, said the bill would extend some procurement and budgeting powers reflected in the first Bayanihan package, which expired last June 25.

“This is one of the many necessary steps in our long road to recovery, so we expect to deliberate on other economic measures in the coming weeks,” he said in a statement.

Salceda broke down the standby fund as follows: