By Ellson Quismorio
The House of Representatives is pushing for a P370-billion economic stimulus package that’s tailor-made to help local business get back on their feet after being floored by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Marikina City 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo presented the package during Tuesday afternoon’s technical working group (TWG) meeting of the economic stimulus cluster of the House’s Defeat COVID-19 Committee.
Quimbo intends to file her proposal in the form of a bill, which will be called the “Economy Moving Forward as One” Act.
She said the P370-billion fiscal stimulus is meant to protect businesses and preserve employment of Filipinos.
“Ito ay upang siguraduhin na wala magsasarang negosyo, walang mawawalan ng trabaho or mababawasan ng kita (This is to ensure that no business will close down, no one will lose jobs or lose part of their income),” Quimbo told the cluster, which is chaired by Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda.
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, co-chairperson of the House Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC), assured the public on Wednesday that the Lower Chamber would flex its muscles to pass the economic stimulus package.
“We are already doing everything we can to fast-track so that when we are supposed to resume on May 4, we will hit the ground running,” he told reporters in a briefing on late Tuesday afternoon after the virtual technical working group (TWG) meeting of the DCC’s Economic Stimulus Cluster.
“With the leadership of the Speaker and with our partners in this endeavor to address the COVID-19, our secretary of Finance (Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez II) and members of the Cabinet are one with the House of Representatives in ensuring that we will be able to meet the urgent needs of the people all the way to business sector with the package that has been envisioned and presented in this hearing,” Romualdez said.
The proposed stimulus package is separate from the P275 billion that the Duterte administration is already tapping for its Social Amelioration Program (SAP) where some 18 million low-income families stand as beneficiaries.
Quimbo said that of the 41 million workers in the Philippines, 29 million workers are affected by the Palace-ordered enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) which was declared over a month ago in Luzon in a bid to slow down the contagion.
Some P110 billion from her proposal will serve as wage subsidy, she said.
Most affected by the ECQ, according to the lady solon, are nonessential businesses like retail trade, transportation, construction, alcohol production, wholesale trade, and accommodation.
Quimbo reckoned that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will have the “greatest difficulty coping with shocks” and the government will have no other choice but to directly intervene through a financial package.
She bared that the number of formal MSMEs in the economic sector most affected by COVID-19 is 746,980, while affected informal MSMEs are at 4.5 million.
The proposed stimulus package was tackled in a three-hour meeting – which was overseen by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Romualdez, and Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte – held via the Zoom videoconferencing application.
AAMBIS-OWA Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, a former deputy speaker, underscored the importance of legislating an economic stimulus as an additional response to the health crisis.
“During the ECQ we need to safeguard lives, but after the ECQ we need to safeguard their livelihood. The lifeblood of the economy is employment, without jobs Filipino will not have income, won’t not have food on their table and won’t be healthy members of our society,” said Garin, who chairs the Committee on Economic Affairs.
Presenting his own proposals during the TWG was Salceda, who pitched the creation of a National Emergency Investment Corporation (NEIC), among others, in order to help businesses and the economy post-COVID.
He said the NEIC will assume obligations of firms for loans in exchange for equity.
Salceda further pitched the need for an enhanced Build, Build, Build initiative to bring in positive returns for the government.
“I think the President should be given special powers to expedite Build, Build, Build,” he said, adding that the windfall can be used to plug existing gaps, like those in health care.
In the end, Salceda moved to consolidate Quimbo’s proposal with his own. “But nonetheless I think it’s better if we already come up with an integrated and a consolidated version of my proposal and proposal of Stella and the others, of course the proposal of the DOF (Department of Finance) so that we can come up with something that can be a…point for further action by both Congress and the Executive.” (With a report from Charissa Atienza)