House: Bayanihan needs more funds
Agreeing on an amount between P140 billion and P162 billion appears to be the next step for the proposed law to fund the country’s COVID-19 recovery program but Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. said the bill may be signed into law as early as mid-August.
“We strongly believe that our counterparts in the Senate will agree with us that we need more money at this time,” he said, as both Houses prepared to meet in a bicameral committee to reconcile the provisions of the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, or Bayanihan 2.
On Wednesday, the House agreed on its version of Bayanihan 2, allotting P162 billion for the government’s COVID-19 response fund, which is P22 billion higher than the P140 billion approved by the Senate last July.
But Villafuerte hopes the Senate agrees that its P162-billion stimulus bill will be more appropriate for the needs of the national government in fighting the coronavirus disease.
“The reason I am confident that the bicam will adopt the House version is that the Senate bill was passed before the [State of the Nation Address]. Our version acceded to the request of President Duterte in his speech for Congress to fund the giving out of face masks to poor Filipino families and the grant of P10,000 allowance to medical front-line workers of government,” he said.
Getting a move on
According to Villafuerte, the House is expected to pass the bill on third and final reading on its next regular session on Monday and the bicameral conference committee can churn out the final version the next day.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano agreed that the House version is better because it allocates P10.5 billion to the Department of Health (DOH) for the “continuous employment of present emergency health-care workers” and to “hire more personnel to ease the burden on the struggling medical corps and augment the operations of DOH-run hospitals.”
“We are also earmarking P10,000 risk allowances for private sector health-care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients and a monthly COVID-19 special risk allowance for all public health workers for every month that they have been serving for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
The application of the provision on risk allowance is retroactive to Feb. 1, 2020, the Speaker said, “in order to cover those who have been sacrificing since the very start of this crisis.”
But in an online briefing, lawmakers belonging to the Makabayan party-list bloc urged the national government to fully disclose how it has spent the P3.7 trillion of the 2020 national budget before it can be trusted to spend the P162 billion under the proposed Bayanihan 2.
House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate said the Bayanihan 2 was being mislabeled as a “recovery” fund although Filipinos have not even “healed” under the first Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.
“Bayanihan 2 still does not guarantee funding for mass testing. Until now, the government has not put in place an effective contract tracing strategy, and our entire health-care system is on the brink of collapse,” he said.
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