Focus resources on health sector, Recto urges, as bicam panel tackles Bayanihan 2 bill

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Monday urged the government to still prioritize funding for the health sector under the proposed "Bayanihan to Recover as One Act".

As members of the congressional bicameral conference committee continue their discussion of the so-called "Bayanihan 2" bill, Recto noted how the country is "trying to achieve too much" with its limited funds for its COVID-19 response.

"There are too many things in the Bayanihan 2 bill. Palagay ko nagiging chopsuey masyado. (We are trying to achieve too much)," the Senate leader said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

"To me, the most important, again, is let us give as much resources as we can to the health, to the fight the pandemic. Doon tayo mag-umpisa (We should start there)," he added.

Lawmakers are deliberating on the Bayanihan 2, which aims to sustain the country's COVID-19 response efforts as well as recovery programs to help sectors that were most affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a member of the Senate contingent to the bicam panel, said Sunday that senators have agreed to increase their proposed appropriation from P140 billion to P162 billion as the House of Representatives had suggested in its version.

The Senate earlier approved a P140-billion standby fund based on the Department of Finance's estimate on the available government resources this year.

Recto said that while he supports the proposed grant of subsidies and loan packages for displaced workers and businesses, ending COVID-19 should remain primordial.

"I support all of that, but we're trying to accomplish too much with too little. And like I said, the most important is our response to the health crisis. Because no matter , we assist businesses, yet 50 percent of them will close down," he said.

"Remember, we've had the longest lockdown and because of that, the biggest contraction ever in Philippine history. More than 27.3 million Filipinos -- if we are going to believe the survey -- lost their jobs and yet, the infection rate still increases, 'di ba (right)? So that's where the problem is," he pointed out.

Specifically, Recto said the country should pour in more funds for hiring more health workers and boosting the government's testing capacity.

"We have to increase the number of our health frontline workers. Hire more. May gyera tayo (We're in a war), we've been at it for five months now. So hire as many as we can, pay them properly, pay them well, make sure we protect them properly. Give them the tools to protect themselves," he said.

"And ensure that we are able to test as many as possible, trace as well and ensure that we have the critical care facilities. The treatment for those who will get infected by the virus," he added.

Recto said investing more in the health aspect of the COVID-19 response will help the country to finally defeat COVID-19 and will, in turn, pave way for the full resumption of the economy.

"Clearly we will not be able to open the economy unless we are able to provide confidence to consumers, investors, to our workers, to the general public. And that means getting ahead of the curve of the virus," he said.

Among the benefits that would be included in the Bayanihan 2 is an additional P10 billion for COVID-PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing; P15 billion for cash for work program; P17 billion for cash subsidy in employees in small businesses; P50 billion for the loan program that would be facilitated through the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP); P17 billion for the agriculture industry; and P10 billion for the transportation industry.

It was also reported that members of the bicam agreed to provide a P15,000 cash aid to health care workers who contract mild to moderate COVID-19 disease; and the one-time cash assistance for teaching and non-teaching personnel in private schools, and part-time faculty members in state universities and colleges.