Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) – May 30, 2021 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A House panel has approved a measure further extending the validity of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 to give the government more time to implement measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At virtual hearing last Friday, the appropriations committee chaired by ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap approved the substitute bill that seeks to extend the validity and effectivity of Bayanihan 2 under Republic Act No. 11494 until end of this year.

The measure, which provides for social amelioration and economic stimulus packages, originally lapsed on Dec. 31 last year and was extended by Congress until June 30 this year through R.A. 11519.

Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, principal author of the measure, cited the need to extend the powers granted to the executive to effectively respond to the pandemic while the country continues to strive to control the spread of COVID-19 and achieve herd immunity.

Villafuerte said the extension “shall give the government the opportunity to continuously implement the recovery and stimulus programs specified in the Bayanihan 2, most especially in allocating funds for more essential and relevant expenses necessary to recover from the distressing effects of this global pandemic.”

ACT-CIS Rep. Niña Taduran, who sponsored the bill during the hearing, shared this opinion and argued that the extension is needed to address disbursement issues of implementing agencies.

At the same hearing, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) revealed that it has already released the funds allocated for Bayanihan 2 to all the implementing agencies covered by the measure.

But the DBM reported a 51.06-percent obligation rate and 70.34-percent disbursement rate among agencies which received Bayanihan 2 funding as of last April.

“If we are now dealing with the extension of the availability of funds, this will primarily have an impact on the obligation and disbursement on the part of the agencies. In short, on the part of the DBM, this will not have a big impact as we have already released the appropriations to the agencies,” DBM Assistant Secretary Kim Robert de Leon told lawmakers.

“What the extension will afford the national government agencies and the government financial institution is probably some additional leeway to further implement their priority projects to respond to COVID-19 after June 30,” De Leon said.

‘Bayanihan 3’ not a Senate priority

Yesterday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the proposed Bayanihan 3, approved by the House of Representatives to allocate P401 billion for the pandemic recovery effort, is not a priority in the Senate as many budgets under the Bayanihan 2 remain unused.

Citing a bill similar to the Bayanihan 3, authored by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Sotto pointed out the poor absorptive capacity of some government agencies as indicated by the unused funds of Bayanihan 2.

“Without good absorptive capacity, many funds are not used,” said Sotto in an interview over dwIZ radio station.

Sotto said the Bayanihan 3, which the House titled the Bayanihan to Arise as One Act, was not even mentioned when he attended a “mini” Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last week.

Also, he said that senators are not inclined to support a measure introducing amendments to the prohibitive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

“I don’t think we have enough time, as it is, to take a quick look into the proposal. Anyway, the bills certified by the Palace as urgent have passed or are in advanced stages in the Senate. We have until June 4 before the sine die adjournment,” Sotto said.

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said there are several proposed major measures to liberalize the investment climate in the country without the need of amending the Constitution.

“The proposed Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act and the Foreign Investments Act are already major bills designed to liberalize our investment climate without amending the Constitution. CREATE is now a law,” said Drilon, referring to the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act which was enacted last March 26. – Cecille Suerte Felipe


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