MANILA--The Senate on Wednesday passed the Bayanihan to Recover as One (Bayanihan 2) bill on second reading, giving President Rodrigo Duterte authority to realign funds for coronavirus-related projects until September 30, as the Philippines continues to battle the COVID-19 crisis.
Senators clarified that Bayanihan 2 should not be considered an extension of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, as the new bill also appropriates some P140 billion as "standby fund" to support the government's coronavirus response efforts.
Bayanihan 2 is like "a basket of targeted aid to sectors severely impacted by the double whammy of a public health and economic crisis," said Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara, who sponsored the measure.
The breakdown of the P140-billion standby fund is as follows:
- Scholarship fund for TESDA: P1 billion
- Assistance to develop state universities and colleges into smart campuses: P3 billion
- Procurement of COVID-19 testing kits and related supplies: P10 billion
- Assistance for tourism sector: P10 billion
- Cash for work program for informal sector workers: P15 billion
- Cash aid for displaced workers: P17 billion
- Cash subsidy and interest-free loans for farmers, fisherfolk: P17 billion
- Transportation assistance, development of sidewalks and bike lanes: P17 billion
- Capital infusion to government financial institutions: P50 billion
"Wage subsidies would also be continued but in this bill, we want to ensure that the sectors that were not covered before but were severely affected by the pandemic would be included this time around," Angara said, referring to teachers, entertainment industry workers and other freelancers.
Tuition subsidies for students whose parents lost their jobs will also be provided through voucher programs, he added.
Qualified students in private elementary or junior high schools can avail of a P3,000 aid, while the subsidy for qualified tertiary students will be determined by the implementing agencies.
Senate Bill No. 1564 also strips the existing law of a provision that allows Duterte to take over hospitals and other private facilities when needed.
"Hindi na siya emergency powers act (It is no longer an emergency powers act.) But in fact, it is trying to bring our country on the road to recovery," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said during the June 2 plenary deliberations.
A provision that allows authorities to sanction individuals who violate quarantine policies is also no longer in Bayanihan 2 after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon argued that Filipinos who are suffering from hunger during the coronavirus pandemic should not be treated as criminals.
"Quarantine violators are driven and motivated by reasons of hunger, by reasons of income, and not because they are criminal," Drilon said last week when he introduced the amendment through a bill.
There are already existing laws that punish crimes committed during the health crisis, he added.
Congress needs to pass the bill before the legislative branch goes on a 2-month break on June 5 since the first Bayanihan Act, which guarantees the distribution of cash aid to 18 million low-income families and hard-hit sectors, will expire as soon as the chamber adjourns, Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters in an online press conference.
" 'Yung pagtawag ng special session, medyo debatable as far as constitutionality is concerned because we cannot hold session 30 days before next regular session, which is on July 27," he said.
(Calling for a special session is debatable as far as constitutionality is concerned because we cannot hold session 30 days before next regular session, which is on July 27.)
The Senate can pass Bayanihan 2 on final reading on Thursday should Malacañang certify the bill as urgent, Sotto said.
Without certification, Congress will have to wait until the second regular session opens on July 27, before it can pass the bill on third reading.
As of 8 p.m., the House has yet to tackle a counterpart measure for the Senate's Bayanihan 2 bill.