Bayanihan 2 lapses, leaving many COVID-19 programs unfunded
MANILA, Philippines — The Bayanihan 2 law lapsed on Wednesday with P18.4 billion in allocations remaining unspent, leaving a number of critical pandemic response programs unfunded, including P6.6 billion for laboratory testing service and hiring of health workers, P4.6 billion for digital learning resources and student subsidies, and P4.6 billion for service contracts for public transport workers.
“These unobligated funds will revert to the treasury and will be unavailable for spending,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a Viber message to the Inquirer.
Also among those affected were public hospital employees under the umbrella group Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), who were dismayed that the government acted too slow, resulting in a failure to release their P3,000 monthly COVID-19 hazard pay on time.
Close to 200 health workers, in hospital protective suits, held a protest rally outside the Department of Health (DOH) central office in Manila on Wednesday.
Millions of pesos were deducted from hospital workers’ allowances, as the DOH made last-minute disbursements of health benefits earmarked under Bayanihan 2.
Special session nixed
Based on the May 31 financial report on Bayanihan 2 published on the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website, “around P18.4 billion in unobligated funds for critical pandemic response and recovery programs will expire today, June 30,” the senator said.
Despite calls for a special session of Congress to extend the availability of funds under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, Malacañang said it did not see any need for it, arguing that all the funding could be obligated within the narrow time period.
On June 3, the House of Representatives passed on second reading a bill extending Bayanihan 2 until Dec. 31, but the Senate version, filed by Pangilinan, remained stuck at the committee level.
The two legislative chambers are in recess and will only resume plenary work on July 26, unless the President calls a special session of Congress during the break.
“We have been calling for the extension of the Bayanihan 2 law because without such extension, our pandemic response efforts will be disrupted,” Pangilinan said.
“During these difficult times when millions of people remain jobless and hungry and the vaccine rollout and health response have been sluggish, the slow obligation of funds and the absence of a law extending its availability are unacceptable,” he said.
House Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez appealed to President Duterte to call for a special session of Congress, which went on sine die adjournment last June 5.
Lagman: A tragedy
Earlier, Malacañang said the unspent funds under Bayanihan 2 amounted to P9 billion. The Palace expressed confidence that these funds will be obligated before the funds’ validity expires.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Rodriguez said it would be “impossible” for the government “to obligate the entire P9 billion” in one day. He said Congress “cannot extend a law that has expired’’ and using the amount without a new law would be illegal.
“I appeal for a special session to pass a reappropriation measure that the P9 billion unobligated and unspent in Bayanihan 2 be allowed to be spent up to Dec. 31, 2021. There are many sectors waiting for its release,” he said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman called the expiration of the funds’ validity a “tragedy” as it was still unutilized amid the continuing pandemic.
In a statement, Lagman said it is “a serious indictment of the failure of the Duterte administration to rescue Filipinos from health complications and bail out the economy consequent to the onslaught of COVID-19.”
“This ineffectiveness accounts for the projection that the Philippines will be the last to recover in late 2022 from the pandemic-induced recession among the countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which have outpaced the country in the amount and alacrity in responding to the pandemic,” he said.
Hoping before Sona
AHW president Robert Mendoza joined calls for a special session to reappropriate the funds.
“We’re hoping they would do that before the (State of the Nation Address),” Mendoza said in a phone interview.
The DOH this week released the P9-billion Special Risk Allowance (SRA) for health workers who handled COVID-19 cases from September to December 2020.
Aside from the SRA, health workers were supposed to receive meals, accommodation, and transportation allowances (MAT), covering the same period, but the DOH in December 2020 asked hospital administrators to return the unspent money before Bayanihan 2 was first extended.
The AHW estimated the MAT funds to be around P300 million for hospitals in Metro Manila alone.
House deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate pressed for a full accounting of the funds disbursed under the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws.
In a statement, Zarate cited data from the DBM which showed that fund releases and disbursements under the two laws have reached P217.2 billion as of April 15, 2021.
“The DBM said only P9 billion remains to be obligated under Bayanihan 2. But with the government’s low capacity to disburse and obligate and a persistent showing of such absorptive capacity, we want to know how an amount of more than P200 billion was used in less than three months. The people must know where these public funds go,” Zarate said.
He added: “Without proper accounting, we cannot blame the people for thinking that this administration is trying to create an enormous war chest in the run-up for the 2022 elections.”
The other programs that would be idled by the expiration of Bayanihan 2, according to a list put together by Pangilinan, are the following:
- P873 million for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to hire and train contact tracers
- P1.2 billion for priority programs of the Department of Agriculture for affected farmers and agricultural workers
- P560 million for various programs of the Department of Labor and Employment to mitigate the negative impacts on formal and informal workers
- P1 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways to build roads leading to tourism destinations
- P1.3 billion for COVID-19 response and recovery interventions of the Department of Social Welfare and Development
- P1.96 billion for the Commission on Higher Education to spend on subsidies and allowances for students and for the development of smart campuses
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