MANILA— Government is considering a third Bayanihan Act or a new COVID-19 emergency response law as policy-makers expect more lockdowns due to the more virulent COVID-19 Delta variant, a senator said Tuesday.
The House of Representatives earlier passed a P500-billion aid package, but the executive branch said the government only has about P150 billion to spare, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said in an online press conference.
"That's the discussion as of now on how we can help with this ayuda... May mga agam-agam at mga chismis na baka ma-extend ang ECQ," he said, referring to the enhanced community quarantine, the Philippines' strictest lockdown classification.
(That's the discussion as of now on how we can help with the cash aid... There are worries and talk that the ECQ might be extended.)
"We have to meet with the new Secretary of DBM (Department of Budget and Management) to discuss with her the possibility of Bayanihan 3," he said.
"We cannot singlehandedly pass a law without consulting the national government," he said.
Lawmakers' discussions with the National Treasury, the Department of Finance and the DBM on the availability of funds were postponed after Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado resigned earlier this month due to health reasons, Zubiri said.
"Before mag-resign si [Budget] Secretary [Wendel] Avisado... ang sabi ng executive branch at that time, ang makakaya was only P150 billion, which is a third of the initial request of House of Representatives," he said.
Lawmakers have yet to meet with DBM officer-in-charge Tina Canda to finalize details of the proposed Bayanihan 3, Zubiri said.
The proposed P150-billion fund will suffice if it will be "focused" on cash aid for residents in areas under lockdown and sectors heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the senator said.
The government is also in a "difficult financial position" as it is also preparing to pass a P5.2-trillion national budget for 2022, he said.
Last year, the Philippine Congress passed 2 COVID-19 aid packages to provide cash assistance to residents who were forced to stay indoors to curb the spread of the highly-contagious disease.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) expired on December 31, 2020, while the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) lapsed on June 30, 2021.