Congress eyes Bayanihan 3
A third installment of the Bayanihan stimulus measure has been filed in the Senate, seeking to pour P485 billion into postdisaster relief and pandemic recovery, including an additional fund of P110 billion for the COVID-19 vaccination program.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said his Senate Bill No. 1953, or the proposed Bayanihan to Rebuild As One Act, was meant to “soften the impact of an economic downturn, accelerate the economic recovery of the country and respond to the urgent needs of areas battered by the recent typhoons.”
“While vaccine shots are hopefully available next year to inoculate millions of Filipinos, Bayanihan 3 should nevertheless be enacted in order to help the economy further recover both from the twin challenges of the pandemic and natural calamities which continuously grapple the country,” he said in an explanatory note.
Recto said his bill was a counterpart to House Bill No. 8031, filed by Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo who sought a smaller P400 billion in funding, and House Bill No. 9059, filed by House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, that sought P247 billion. The two bills are to be consolidated in committee.
Under Recto’s proposal, some P55 billion is to be earmarked for procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, and another P55 billion to be allocated for the handling of the medicine, hiring of contact tracers, testing, and treatment under the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., and payment of hazard duty pay.
This is on top of the P72.5 billion vaccine fund under the unsigned General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2021.
Recto noted that more than 270 days have passed since the government imposed a community quarantine on March 15 and the country has also been battered by Typhoons “Rolly,” “Quinta” and “Ulysses” (international names: Goni, Molave and Vamco, respectively) over only two weeks.
1.25M families affected
He said the three typhoons affected a total number of 1.25 million families, caused 119 deaths, and left P14.9 billion and P9.8 billion worth of damage in infrastructure and agriculture, respectively.
“If we were quick to act on Bayanihan 1 and 2, certainly, we can fast track this Bayanihan 3 as a continuing response” to the pandemic and the series of disasters, Recto said.
The Senate and the House last week ratified the P4.5-trillion GAA, including P72.5 billion in appropriations for COVID-19 vaccines, but some senators, including Recto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, have raised concerns that the amount would not be enough. Recto said the country’s COVID-19 managers should take into account not only the price of the vaccines but also the fact that each person would require two doses to be fully inoculated from the disease.
He cited other related costs, such as the storage, handling, distribution of the drug, as well as training of health personnel.
The experience of other countries with pandemics, according to Recto, would show that the vaccine price is only a third or even half of the total cost involved in administering it to a population.
He insisted that 70 percent of the country’s population of 100 million-plus should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity or the proportion of people who should be immunized so the entire population would be protected. Others had been calling for a 60-percent threshold.
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