Lawmakers on Saturday welcomed President Duterte’s enactment of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), which provides for a P165-billion COVID-19 relief package.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, lead author in the House of both Bayanihan 1 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act) and Bayanihan 2, said the President’s signing of Bayanihan 2 would let Malacañang scale up its COVID-19 response while extending immediate financial aid to distressed companies—especially micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises.
He added the Bayanihan 2 was hoped to reverse the alarming trend of increasing business shutdowns and mass layoff of workers.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Saturday said the newly signed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act would raise P17.5 billion in additional revenues from Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators and hasten the construction of telecommunication towers in the country.
Drilon said the law redefined the taxation of POGO and tightened the regulations to raise funds to augment the government’s dwindling resources.
“The Bayanihan 2 will more than double the tax collection from POGO —from P7 billion estimated collection in 2019 to approximately P17.5 billion this year because of the reforms we have introduced in the measure,” said Drilon citing the estimates by the Department of Finance.
Villafuerte hoped Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado would make good on his earlier commitment to release P140 billion in economic stimulus funds as soon as Bayanihan 2 is signed into law.
“Bayanihan 2 would vest President Duterte anew with special powers to realign state resources and carry out urgent programs to scale up COVID-19 active response at both the national and local government levels while providing immediate succor to businesses, most especially MSMEs that employ the majority of Filipino workers, devastated by the unprecedented economic crisis bedeviling the domestic and global economies,” Villafuerte said.
He said “the prompt release of Bayanihan 2 stimulus funds for the pandemic-hit businesses would hasten economic recovery as the continued, calibrated easing of the mobility restrictions nationwide is likely to boost business and consumer confidence in the domestic economy.”
He said he was optimistic Bayanihan 2’s P165.5-billion budget—comprising a P140-billion regular outlay and a P25.5 billion standby fund—“would just be an initial stimulus package, considering the immense resources required to spell a strong and early recovery for the sectors reeling from the global economic fallout unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.”
“We are hoping that Malacañang would be able to raise more resources in the months ahead to bankroll further stimulus packages needed for an early and strong economic rebound,” he said.
Villafuerte was pointing to the House-approved proposals on the P1.5-trillion Covid-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act (CURES) and P1.3-trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy Act (ARISE), which both call for aggressive spending to rev up the economy and ease the pandemic’s impact on its worst-hit sectors.
According to the Department of Labor and Employment, over 3 million workers have permanently or temporarily lost their jobs amid the pandemic.
Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay was quoted in a media report as tracing the job dislocation to the growing number of businesses that could no longer sustain their operations because of the work stoppages resulting from the protracted mobility restrictions since March.
Villafuerte said the Congress-approved Bayanihan 2 bill, which contained most of the provisions of the House version, set aside the biggest slice of the stimulus fund for soft loans to badly-hit sectors such as the MSME, transport, tourism and agriculture groups “to help them get back on their feet at the soonest in the face of the global economic downturn.”
Such soft loans would be coursed through government financial institutions, namely, the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, Philippine Guarantee Corporation and the Small Business Corp., for the affected sectors seeking government support, he said.
This developed as Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. reiterated the need for Congress to create an oversight committee to guard the use of Bayanihan 2 funds to ensure that the P165 billion allocated by Congress would be “utilized properly, prudently, and expeditiously.”
“In the President’s address last Tuesday, the President urged Congress to create an oversight committee to monitor the implementation of Bayanihan 2, particularly the use of the funds allocated for the government’s various COVID-19 response programs, and this proposal makes sense,” said Abante.
“We literally cannot afford the misuse of these funds. Funds are scarce, and we must make the most of what we have,” Abante added.
President Duterte signed the Bayanihan 2 law late Friday, September 11. The funds allocated by the law are expected to help various sectors cope with the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the country’s first recession in three decades and resulted in record-high unemployment.
Under Bayanihan 2, the tax shall be computed on the peso equivalent of the foreign currency used, based on the prevailing official exchange rate at the time of payment, to prevent under-declaration of income.
Failure to follow the provision will be considered as a fraudulent act constituting under-declaration of taxable receipts or income, and shall be subject to interests, fines and penalties under the National Internal Revenue Code of the Philippines, Drilon added.
The measure orders the Bureau of Internal Revenue to shut down POGOs which fail to pay the taxes due.
The minority leader said he hoped for the immediate enactment of the measure to provide the much-needed relief and assistance to low-income families, healthcare workers, small and medium enterprises, and the tourism and transportation sector, among others.
Drilon said the law contained a provision that he proposed, which temporarily suspends most permits for the installation and operation of cell towers in the country within the next three years.
There are about 29 to 35 documentary requirements and permits before a single tower could be built in a subdivision, barangay, or town, Drilon noted.
These permits include consent of the neighbors, barangay resolution, certificate of non-coverage, zoning clearance, height clearance, radiation evaluation studies, building permit, a city or municipal resolution, occupancy permit, mayor’s permit, memorandum of agreement with DENR-NIPAS, among others.