MANILA - Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said Wednesday he wants to push for a higher budget for pandemic response programs under the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill, seeking funding of more than three times the proposed amount.
The measure, a version of which was passed by the Senate this week, allotted P140 billion for coronavirus test kits, cash aid and other pandemic programs.
"I think P500 billion would be a good amount," Zubiri told ANC, adding that this would be enough to help displaced workers, transport industries, and micro, small and medium enterprises.
While the Senate wants a bigger budget, the finance department repeatedly warned lawmakers "not to go over" P140 billion because the agency lacks "money that they can spend," said Zubiri.
"In other words, they don’t want to put an amount that they cannot fund, and so of course, being prudent about it, we didn’t want the Bayanihan 2 to be vetoed then we have to go back to the drawing board and do it again. It’s a waste of time," said the senator.
"Kulang na kulang ang funding (The funding is very limited)… We had to do it lang because as the teacher would say, ‘Finished or not finished please pass your paper.’ So we passed the paper but the checking is still with the executive. We can still we can still amend the law," he added.
The House and Senate, he said, should hold a bicameral conference "right away" and "huddle" with the finance department to increase the amount.
The Bayanihan to Recover as One bill, so-called Bayanihan 2, is the second emergency law to be taken up by Congress amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first- the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act- lapsed on June 25, which allowed President Rodrigo Duterte to realign items under the 2020 national budget and granted him exemption from procurement laws.
The Philippines has incurred trillions in foreign debt as it grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the economy to contract and left at least 7.3 million jobless with lockdowns shuttering businesses and suspending public transport.