The proposed "Bayanihan to Recover as One" Act has been raised to P166.527 billion, Zamboanga Sibugay 1st district Rep. Wilter "Sharky" Wee Palma II has confirmed to the Manila Bulletin.
Palma is part of the Bicameral Conference Committee hearings taking place between select members on the House of Representatives and Senate on the pending COVID-19 response measure. Both chambers have previously passed their respective versions of the bill.
The Mindanao solon said that of the P166.527 billion that has been agreed upon by congressmen and senators, P140 billion is readily available while the remaining P26.527 billion will have to be sourced somewhere by the Department of Finance (DOF).
"The P20 billion-plus will act as standby appropriation. It will be up to the DOF to look for these funds. As lawmakers, our job only is to appropriate," said Palma, who is a Deputy Majority Leader.
The new amount for the so-called "Bayanihan 2" is over P4 billion higher than the appropriation stated in the House version of the measure (P162 billion), designated as House Bill (HB) No.6953.
Palma also bared that the effectivity of the proposed Act would be "until December 2020."
He also said the Bicam panel has agreed on provisions that would provide funding for various purposes intended to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he declined to attach an amount to the items since the series of hearings have yet to be concluded.
"Everything is still fluid and any amount may still change (under the P166.527-billion ceiling)," he noted.
Palma said the panel has approved allocations for testing, procurement of masks for the public and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers
Also included are construction of isolation facilities, emergency employment of health workers, subsidy for the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), cash-for-work program, support programs for impacted sectors including transportation, subsidies and allowances for students and teachers and for national athletes and coaches.
Also agreed upon were funds for capital infusion to government banks, subsidy for agriculture, assistance to the tourism industry (tour guide trainings and subsistence), development of smart campuses, scholarship funds for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), implementation of the Department of Education's (DepEd) digital education, hiring of additional teaching personnel, hiring of contact-tracers, assistance to local government units (LGUs), and computer-based application/renewal of licenses from the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC).
A key provision highlighted by Palma was the proposed authority for LGUs to realign, reallocate, or augment any of its local funds. These include calamity funds, Special Education Funds (SEF), Gender and Development (GAD) funds, just to name a few.
"This will allow the LGUs to call the shots for themselves. Sila mas nakakaalam ng sitwasyon nila (They know their situation better). For example, this will allow them to construct or repurpose facilities that will serve as isolation rooms for incoming LSIs (locally-stranded individuals). These may be set up in each of their barangays. This will help eliminate the problems that were caused by the convergence of people in huge quarantine facilities," he explained.
Palma said the Bicam meetings have gone smoothly in general. One of the expected sticking points was the proposed P10-billion allocation for the belegueared tourism industry, since the House and Senate versions of Bayanihan 2 had different provisions on this--at least before their meetings began.
The House had proposed that the stimulus fund be allocated to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), while the Senate wants it placed under the Department of Tourism (DOT). Stakeholders of the tourism industry, specifically tourism-oriented businesses and travel agencies are reportedly backing the Senate version.
For COOP-NATCCO Party-List Rep. Sabiniano Canama, reallocating the P10 billion meant for TIEZA would deprive the millions of displaced workers in the tourism industry the opportunity to get new jobs.
Canama stressed that what Filipinos need right now are jobs, which can be provided by infrastructure investments thanks to its high multiplier effects of creating employment, generating new businesses, and stimulating consumer demand.
He said providing loans to big companies in the tourism sector is not even a priority at this time because even with the transition to the new normal, tourists would still be wary over going out and traveling for leisure.
“Even if they are able to secure the money they want, what good would that do to starving workers and their families? Who would dare go to resorts and vacation spots with the threat of the pandemic still among us? Tourism workers need jobs now, not later when these big firms have finally decided what to do with the working capital they will receive," he said.