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Senate tackles recovery bill

Hananeel Bordey

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The Senate on Monday discussed the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill or a measure extending the special powers given to President Rodrigo Duterte under the Republic Act (RA) 11469 and providing subsidies to more sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Senate plenary session on Monday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sonny Angara sponsored Senate Bill 1564 which seeks to give the President more flexibility to use the Executive Department’s power to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to cushion the adverse impact of the health crisis on the Philippine economy.

Under the bill which seeks to replace RA 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the lawmakers will allow the President to realign the budget of different agencies to address the health crisis.

Augmented funds should prioritize the funding of the needs of the Department of Health, Philippine General Hospital, National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, Labor Department’s Subsidy Program, Trade Department’s Livelihood Programs, Agriculture Department’s assistance to farmers, Education Department school-based feeding program, Social Welfare and Development Department’s subsidy programs, and allocations for the local government units (LGU).

The bill also provides for the funding of the government response to the following sectors: P236 billion for overall COVID-19 response, P25 billion for the cash-for-work program under DoLE’s TUPAD program, P50 billion capital for government financial institutions, P30 billion for the procurement of PCR-based test kits and other health supplies, P50 billion assistance to affected workers, OFW, and other critically-impacted sectors, P46 billion for the Department of Agriculture, P25 billion for the Department of Transportation and P10 billion for the Department of Tourism.

Like the RA 11469, the bill also requires the President and the Department of Budget and Management to submit a weekly report to the Congress. A Joint Congressional Oversight Committee will still be formed to monitor the Executive Department’s actions.

Effectivity

Once the bill passed into law, the proposed measure will be effective once the RA 11469 expires and it will be valid until 30 September of this year. The provisions of this measure can be withdrawn sooner through a concurrent resolution from Congress or if the President directed its withdrawal.

The bill specifically provided the President the power to implement health measures including massive testing which will be conducted in areas with a higher possibility of COVID-19 transmission.

The Inter-Agency Task Force was tasked to ensure an adequate number of COVID-19 testing centers, hiring of skilled laboratory technicians, and procurement of COVID-19 PCR-based test kits based on the number of patients and health workers with severe symptoms, mild symptoms, those with history of travel and exposure. LGU may also implement their own procurement as long as it is consistent with the provisions of the measure.

A P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy for low-income families who live in areas under enhanced community quarantine will remain.

Wage subsidies for displaced workers, probationary, seasonal contractual, freelancers, self-employed, and repatriated OFW including those whose deployment was suspended due to deployment ban is also provided under the Senate bill.

Under the bill, the amount of wage amelioration shall be equivalent to 100 percent of their applicable minimum wage for maximum of two months.

Beneficiaries for this subsidy program should cover workers that are directly impacted by the pandemic especially those in tourism, construction, creative, public transportation, trade industries, private basic education schools, and higher education institutions.

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