By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Heeding the advice of government finance managers, senators have reduced their proposed standby fund for COVID-19 response under the “Bayanihan to Recover as One” bill.
From P236 billion, the proposed standby fund would now be P140 billion, as they agreed during a caucus meeting Tuesday night.
“We all agreed in caucus also to limit the amount that can be realigned in the 2020 budget to roughly P140 billion,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in his interpellation on Senate Bill No. 1564, citing a recommendation from its sponsor, finance committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara.
Economic and finance managers earlier said the government does not have enough resources for this year to further finance response and recovery programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least P130 billion would only be available for release this year, they said.
The committee report on Senate Bill 1564 initially contained eight items to be funded by the P236-billion standby fund, which, include wage subsidies for displaced workers, loans and increasing the country’s testing capacity, among others.
Following the caucus, these were trimmed down to four, a bulk of which would go to “Support Programs for Impacted Sectors” which is roughly P65 billion, according to Recto.
Recto suggested to specify the items to which the fund would be allocated, to ensure that assistance will be extended to critically affected sectors, particularly agriculture, tourism and transportation.
His proposal would be to allocate some P20 billion for cash-for-work programs; P10 billion to P20 billion for expanded COVID-19 testing; P30 billion for capital infusion to government finance institutions for low-interest loans; P20 billion to P28 billion for unemployment assistance; P20 billion for agriculture support; P20 billion for the transportation sector; and P10 billion to assist the tourism industry.
These would still total to P140 billion, Recto said.
Angara expressed openness Recto’s proposition.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in a online interview on Wednesday, said an amended copy is sent to the executive department for study.
Sotto said the Palace required the amendments, considering the resources, before it issues a ceriftication on the measure.
The “Bayanihan to Recover as One” bill will still be deliberated in the period of amendments before its approval in second reading in Senate.
Sotto said that they could approve this on third and final reading on Wednesday if the President certifies it as urgent.