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House passes P1.3-trillion stimulus bill on 2nd reading

A vendor tends to a customer behind a makeshift barrier on the first day of the Philippine capital’s gradual reopening since the lockdown in Manila, June 1. — REUTERS

June 2, 2020 | 12:31 am

By Genshen L. Espedido, Reporter

The House of Representatives on Monday approved on second reading a P1.3-trillion stimulus package that the government hopes will boost economic growth amid the coronavirus crisis.

Under House Bill 6815 or the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), P568 billion will be allocated in 2020 for mass testing (P10 billion); wage subsidies (P110 billion), cash-for-work program (P30 billion); assistance to students (P15 billion); loans for micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs (P50 billion); zero interest loans by Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines (P50 billion) and loan guarantees (P40 billion).

This year’s allocation also includes assistance to various sectors such as MSMEs (P10 billion); tourism (P58 billion); industry and services (P44 billion); transportation (P70 billion); and agri-fishery (P56 billion) and funding for the National Development Corp (P25 billion) to “minimize permanent damage to the economy.”

For 2021, P80 billion will be allocated for further mass testing (P10 billion), loans for MSMEs (P25 billion), loan guarantees (P20 billion) and additional funding for the National Development Corp. (P25 billion).

Meanwhile, a P650-billion budget for the “Build, Build, Build” program will be spread over three years starting 2021 covering infrastructure projects supporting universal health care, education, and food security.

An estimated 4.1 million employees from the MSMEs are expected to benefit under the economic stimulus package.

The bill also requires the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to submit to Congress a long-term plan for building economic resilience within six months after the lifting of the various forms of quarantine. It also creates an Economic Stimulus Board (ESB) to identify the components of the fiscal stimulus package, and monitor the delivery of each intervention.

A joint Congressional oversight committee will be created to monitor the implementation of the stimulus package. The committee will be comprised of the co-chairpersons of the House economic stimulus cluster, and chairpersons of the Senate committees of Economic Affairs, Ways and Means and Finance.

The bill also authorizes the President to reallocate and realign the General Appropriations Acts of 2019 and 2020, and allocate cash, funds and investments held by any government-owned or -controlled corporations or any national government agency to provide funding support.

The Secretary of Finance is also authorized to direct the National Treasurer to borrow in the form of bonds and loans to fund the provisions of the bill.

“What we badly need is fiscal stimulus to ensure that liquidity is not trapped. With more government spending, business confidence can return, animal spirits are awakened, and bullish markets can eventually return. Kailangang kumilos ang gobyerno para siguradong makautang ang maliliit na negosyo at gamitin ang utang sa tamang paraan (The government has to act to ensure that small businesses can get loans and use these in the right way),” Marikina Rep. and co-chair of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee’s economic stimulus cluster Stella Luz A. Quimbo said during her sponsorship speech on May 27.

During the House plenary, the measure was amended to require the government to give preference to products, materials and supplies made in the Philippines when making procurements to implement relevant provisions of the bill.

The bill was also amended to define mass testing as “testing of all individuals…who are at high-risk of contracting COVID-19 infections.”

The bill will still have to be approved on third reading, before it will be transmitted to the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC) urged Congress to approve the PESA bill as soon as possible.

“We encourage the House plenary to approve the historical measure on 2nd Reading on June 1 and 3rd Reading on June 4 before its scheduled recess. The Senate is considering six stimulus bills given the very large amounts being considered and the forthcoming recess we ask the Congress to approve the final legislation soon after resuming session in late July to provide very needed funds for economic recovery,” the JFC said in a statement.

The statement was signed by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Phils., Inc., Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Phils., Inc., Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Phils., Inc., European Chamber of Commerce of the Phils., Inc., Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of the Phils., Inc., Korean Chamber of Commerce of the Phils., Inc. and the Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, Inc.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives also approved on 2nd reading House Bill 6865 which seeks baseline COVID-19 testing for the vulnerable members of society.

It also approved on third and final reading House Bill 6505 which seeks to grant full insurance coverage to all qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.