Senate OKs Bayanihan II on 3rd reading

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 28) — Senators approved on third and final reading of the "Bayanihan II" bill on Tuesday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte sought its speedy passage in his State of the Nation Address.

Voting 22-1 votes, senators passed Senate Bill 1564 or the "Bayanihan to Recover as One Act", the second version of the Bayanihan Law which will aid the government in addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

Bayanihan II focuses on COVID-19 recovery interventions and response to the health crisis, and establishes a ₱140-billion standby fund for socioeconomic and health programs.

The measure provides emergency subsidy for low-income households, assistance to affected teachers and students, among others.

It removes the provision from the first Bayanihan Law allowing the President to take over hospitals and private facilities during the crisis.

Senator Francis Pangilinan was the lone lawmaker who voted against the measure, citing that the incompetence of the Health Secretary Francisco Duque III does not deserve an additional funding to address the crisis.

“We vote no to additional funding specified in the Bayanihan 2 because we believe that Sec. Duque ought to be fired before billions more are allowed to be released to the DoH,” said Pangilinan during the plenary session.

He added, “Without an effective management of the spread of the disease, Mr. President, we will be unable to reopen the economy and in failing to reopen the economy due to the failure of the DOH to bring COVID to manageable levels, then our economic recovery will be elusive and widespread hunger and joblessness will persist.”

Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon said that priorities must be clear in the implementation of the measure once enacted into law.

“We must make sure that the priorities are clear,” he said. “I think we did a good job here, the bill has been approved. The next step now is to make sure our oversight covers the efficiency, the economies of making sure that we are able to do this right.”

The "Bayanihan to Heal as One Act" or Bayanihan I, which lapsed on June 24, granted Duterte additional powers to reallocate portions of the 2019 and 2020 funds amounting to ₱275 billion for the government's COVID-19 response.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that senators would have wanted a larger amount than the provided ₱140-billion standby fund in the second version of Bayanihan Law, however, officials from the Department of Finance (DOF) , National Economic and Development Authority, and Department of Budget set a cap.

“Their answer was they didn’t have the money and they don’t want to spend on anything or allocate anything by law that they don’t have,” Zubiri told CNN Philippines. “There was threat to veto any measure that was over the cap.”

Zubiri added that lawmakers will try to raise to DOF the amount needed for the measure during the bicameral conference committee meeting.

READ: Duterte asks Congress to pass Bayanihan 2

In his SONA on Monday, Duterte appealed to lawmakers to give Bayanihan II the same treatment and priority.

"This health emergency stretched the government's resources to its limits. I hope they can [give] the same treatment of clarity, purpose, and fastness to support the passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act," Duterte said.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III earlier said the Senate is keen on passing the second Bayanihan Law even without certification from Malacañang, since the bill was already passed on second reading before Congress adjourned sine die last month.

Malacañang had earlier refused to certify the measure as urgent due to financial issues.

Once both chambers of Congress pass Bayanihan II, there will be a bicameral conference committee meeting, together with the executive department, to harmonize conflicting provisions in the measure.

Aside from Zubiri, Senators Sonny Angara, Pia Cayetano, Ralph Recto, Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, and Franklin Drilon were designated members of the bicameral conference committee for the Senate Bill 1564 or Bayanihan II.

READ: Senate to prioritize Bayanihan 2, COVID-19 response bills when session reopens

House Committee on Ways and Means chair Rep. Joey Salceda recommended Tuesday that the lower chamber just adopt the Senate version of the bill to get on with other stimulus measures intended to address the crisis.

The House Defeat COVID-19 Ad-Hoc Committee on the same day passed the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery or GUIDE bill. The measure seeks to provide P55 billion to the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Philippine Guarantee Corporation so they can expand loans for micro, small, and medium enterprises. The bill is now up for approval at the plenary.

Deputy Speaker Luis Ray "LRay" Villafuerte said the House will likely pass the bill within two weeks.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said deliberation of priority measures may coincide with discussions on the General Appropriations bill for 2021.

Bayanihan II was among measures Duterte mentioned in his congressional wish list during his SONA. He also called for approval of other stimulus bills, creation of new government agencies, and a revival of the death penalty, among others.

READ: LIST: Stimulus bills, new departments top Duterte's Congress wish list