The one and only way to economic recovery for the Philippines is through government spending.
This basic truth was pointed out by Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo, one of the most brilliant minds in Congress, who guested in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan last Sunday morning .
Our discussion focused on what ought to be done – and done right in a timely manner – during these trying times as the coronavirus pandemic continues its rampage and many Filipinos are still suffering from the massive devastation brought by three deadly typhoons that hit within a span of three weeks recently.
“Kasi nga po bagsak ang mga pamilya, bagsak ang mga negosyo, ang tanging sector lang po na meron kakayahan gumastos at magpaikot ng pera ng ating ekonomiya ay ang gobyerno (Because families are down and businesses are down, the only sector capable of spending and pump priming the economy is government),” Rep. Quimbo explained.
And if government fails to spend when there’s money to spend, that could be criminal.
“Mas malaking kasalanan ay pag may appropriation, may pera dahil umutang tayo ng malaki, pero hindi naman ginagastos ng gobyerno,” she said as she lamented underspending in many government agencies.
During the House budget hearings, she said that it was discovered that P1.3 trillion out of the P4.09-trillion national budget for 2020 had not yet been disbursed as of mid-October.
In our Teleradyo discussion, Rep. Quimbo elucidated on House Bill 8031 she filed to push for a third version of the Bayanihan Law to meet the various economic challenges in these difficult times when millions of Filipinos are becoming desperate.
The features of her proposed measure are sensible. Rep. Quimbo knows whereof she speaks, I must say. She has a Ph.D in economics from UP and wouldn’t have achieved the highest honor of being summa cum laude for nothing. Her brilliance reminds me of her mom, former Dept. of Science and Technology Secretary Dr. Estrella Alabastro, who was a former colleague of mine when I was DILG secretary in the Arroyo administration.
P400 billion is being proposed for Bayanihan 3, P330-B of which is for coronavirus response, and P70 billion is proposed for disaster response. Here’s the breakdown: P100 billion for worker subsidies, P100 billion for capacity building of impacted sectors, P90 billion for additional social amelioration to affected households, P50 billion for rehabilitation of typhoon-hit areas, P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers, P25 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, P3 billion for Internet allowances of teachers and students in basic education, and P2 billion for Internet allowances of college instructors and students.
She explained that the subsidies for workers would be outright grants, not loans, to cover expenses for COVID testing, and for paid sick leaves of those who have already used up their sick leaves — to enable them to fully recover and avoid infecting others in the workplace. The subsidies would also serve as assurance to daily wage earners affected by no work-no pay status.
The subsidies would also be used as “payroll protection program” to help small businesses continue paying salaries of their workers, for retooling and retraining of workers to survive the pandemic, to help small retailers to shift to online selling, and give non-essential businesses a chance to recover after being disallowed to operate earlier.
The funds for Internet allowances certainly need to be increased, especially amid an earlier revelation by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda that at present, online learning can happen only in private schools, and that the public school system can only avail of the modular mode of learning. If the Philippines can hope to catch up with other countries in the so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0 now happening, then strengthening our digital capabilities is a must.
To strengthen oversight functions, Bayanihan 3 includes a proposal to create a “Bayanihan Council” which would be a joint executive and legislative body to ensure proper and timely disbursement of funds. The proposal seeks to correct flaws in government spending , and level up the earlier Bayanihan provision requiring the Executive Branch to make a report to Congress on how public funds are spent.
Indeed, spending in a timely manner is as essential as the need to go all-out in government spending during these very difficult times.