By Mario Casayuran
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go supported Wednesday the appeal of local government officials, civic organizations and entrepreneurs for government to also provide aid to middle class Filipino families during the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.
“Marami pong Pilipino na hindi kasama sa poorest of the poor pero kailangan rin ng tulong. Ito ang mga may trabaho pero apektado ang operasyon ng negosyo o ng mga employers nila. Dapat matulungan lahat ng apektado na malampasan ang krisis na ito (Many Filipinos, who are not among the poorest of the poor, also need help. They are employed but are adversely affected by the operation of businesses or their employers. We have to help them, too, to overcome this crisis),” Go said.
“Bagamat may trabaho, wala silang gaanong savings. Malaki ang kontribusyon nila sa buwis na nakokolekta ng gobyerno at sila rin ang bumubuhay sa ekonomiya ng bansa. Huwag natin sila pabayaan (Although they have jobs, they have meager savings. They also contribute to the revenues collected by the government and support the economy of the country),” he said, referring to the middle class that comprises a big portion of those affected by the crisis.
Go appealed to banks, quasi-banks and other financial institutions, both public and private, to provide a grace period and impose no increase in interest rates on consumer and corporate loans to assist those who comprise the Filipino middle class in recovering from the unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
In its message to its members released last March 29, the Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) urged its members to continue providing necessary services to the public and maintain reasonable lending rates as the island of Luzon and other areas are under enhanced community quarantine.
Under RA 11469, President Duterte is authorized to direct all public and private banks, quasi-banks, financing companies, lending companies, and other financial institutions, including the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS) and Pag-ibig Fund, to implement a minimum of a 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans without incurring interests, penalties, fees and other charges.
The covered loans include salary, personal, housing, and motor vehicle loans, as well as credit card payments, falling due within the period of the enhanced community quarantine, now extended until April 30. Interests, penalties, fees or other charges can be waived, and persons with multiple loans may also be given the minimum 30-day grace period for every loan.
The Bayanihan To Heal As One Actthe allocates funds for assistance to local governments as well as to micro, small and medium enterprises by subsidizing the salaries of their employees who are mostly from the lower middle class.
According to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, a budget of P205 billion is at the government’s disposal to provide support for those in the informal sector, in addition to fully funding the needs of the health care sector.
A subsidy program for employees of SMEs that are totally or partially closed due to the crisis is also being initiated by the government.
The government has also provided additional support to the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) has officially considered and declared farmers, fishers, agri-fishery industry stakeholders, and other workers in the food value chain as “frontliners”.
Go appealed to the private sector, particularly big businesses, to help augment the assistance to the middle class by taking care of their respective employees and communities.
“This assistance prioritizes those at the bottom, the poorest, most vulnerable and the displaced. It trickles up as the government prepares its assistance to SME (small- and medium-sized enterprises) as well. It is thus my hope that those on top — the rich and the big businesses — will continue to meet us halfway by augmenting the aid coming from government as well as by taking care of their communities and employees,” he added.