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Senators split over Bayanihan fund extension

Hananeel Bordey

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Two Senate leaders shared opposing views on the possible extension of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Law’s (Bayanihan 2) validity following the non-release of at least P34 billion to provide relief to the agriculture and tourism sectors.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto favors the extension of the emergency measure to provide more time for the implementing agencies to disburse the multi-billion aid to the sectors severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This came after the Department of Tourism and the Department of Agriculture — in separate budget hearings on Monday — disclosed that the Department of Budget and Management has not released yet the P10 billion aid for the tourism sector and P24 billion assistance for the agriculture sector.

After both department’s disclosure, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said the implementing agencies have yet to submit the Special Budget Requests for the release of Bayanihan funds.

“It’s unfortunate, we spent many hours and days crafting Bayanihan 2 which was certified as urgent to assist many sectors of society much affected by the pandemic only to be informed that they are not ready to implement the same,” Recto said.

“Surely not only will it delay the assistance needed by families and businesses but will also delay economic recovery. Yes, we probably will have to extend validity of Bayanihan 2,” he added.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, opposed any extension on the Bayanihan 2’s effectivity, noting the possible constitutional violations the government may commit should the emergency measure be extended.

“I will oppose any extension of Bayanihan 2. Note that this is an emergency measure granting the President extra powers which, under the Constitution, will expire upon the next adjournment of Congress on 19 December,” he noted.

“Any extension can be questioned as being contrary to the Constitution. Note also that after Bayanihan’s expiration on 19 December 2020, the 2021 (General Appropriations Act) becomes effective 12 days after. So why extend it? DBM should release the funds appropriated before 19 December,” Drilon added.

The minority chief tagged the non-release of funds as “deplorable and inexcusable,” as he noted that the lawmakers were forced to work within the budget ceiling set by the economic managers and yet, the release of funds has not been facilitated.

“I cannot believe that Secretary (William) Dar and Secretary (Bernadette) Romulo-Puyat are so negligent, or dumb, not to submit the appropriate Special Budget Requests. The farmers and the fisherfolk need it. The displaced workers and distressed MSME in the tourism industry need it,” he added.

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