How does Bayanihan law expiry affect government's COVID-19 response?

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 25 2020 07:05 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte holds a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang, May 19, 2020. Karl Norman Alonzo, Presidential Photo


MANILA - The law that granted President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic expired on Thursday with government officials allaying concerns that it would hamper the delivery of government services meant to address the crisis.

Top government officials on Thursday assured the public that the expiry of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act would not affect ongoing programs of the government for the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Sa ngayon po, wala namang epekto. Ang SAP (social amelioration program) distribution po eh nakalaan na po iyan for distribution," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said, referring to the cash aid program for poor families. 

(For now, there is no effect. the SAP is already ready for distribution.)

The government's inter-agency task force on pandemic response will still continue to formulate policies to respond to the crisis, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said.

"Tayo pa rin ay nasa tinatawag na public health emergency at tayo pa rin ang kinakasangkapan ng ating Pangulo para magpatupad ng kaniyang mga direktiba ukol dito sa ating pagharap sa COVID crisis," he said.

(We are still in a public health emergency and the President has empowered us to execute his directives in responding to the COVID crisis.)

President Duterte signed the Bayanihan law on March 25, granting him more powers that included the authority to reallocate government savings to coronavirus-related programs, and grant exemptions from procurement laws.

The law also allowed the government to provide cash subsidies to 18 million poor families for two months while the country was on strict lockdown. The program was later expanded to include 5 million more families.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

For now, Roque said the government has procured equipment it needs for the pandemic fight, such as test kits and medical gear.

"Importante po iyong nabigyan po tayo ng leeway para bumili ng lahat ng ating pangangailangan, unrestricted by the Government Procurement Act," Roque said.

(We were given a leeway to buy all the things we need, unrestricted by the Government Procurement Act.)

The effect of the expiry of the Bayanihan law would be felt if the country sees a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases that would exhaust its critical care system, he added.

"Kapag sumipa po ang numero ng COVID, napakadami po ang pangangailangan from ventilators, to PPEs to testing kits, to nurses, to medical personnel, so, iyon po ang dahilan kung bakit nagnanais tayo ng extension dahil hindi po natin alam kung anong mangyayari sa mga susunod na buwan," Roque said.

(Once there is a spike in COVID cases again, we will see again a sudden increase in demand for medical gear and medical personnel. That is why we are seeking an extension because we don't know what will happen in the coming months.) 

Congress adjourned session earlier this month without final approval of a stimulus package that would set the recovery track of the economy from the pandemic.

Roque had said that Malacañang "now wants a stimulus package that we can actually fund and that will not require too much borrowing."

The Palace spokesman said the President would call for a special session of Congress once economic managers have finalized the needed stimulus package to revive the country's economy bruised by the pandemic.

"Magpapatawag po ang Presidente ng special session kung mayroon na pong nabuong consensus, kung magkano iyong magiging stimulus package," Roque said.

(The President will call for a special session once there is a consensus on how much the stimulus package will be.)

As of June 4, the Philippines has secured at least $5.758 billion (P288 billion) in loans from different lenders to finance the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic, Roque said.

In terms of government spending, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said the Philippines had spent P355 billion for its response to the pandemic as of June 24, adding more funds were needed to address the crisis.

Of the amount, Avisado said P247.52 billion came from pooled savings while P96.7 billion came from unprogrammed appropriations.

The Philippines as of June 25 has confirmed 33,069 COVID-19 cases. The figure includes 1,212 deaths and 8,910 recoveries.

Meanwhile, fresh community quarantine protocols are set to take effect on July 1.