A party-list lawmaker on Wednesday proposed the use of billions in “pandemic savings” from the government for additional financial assistance to the poor and other affected sectors, including small and medium-sized businesses.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor made the proposal in response to reports that Congress is coordinating with the Department of Finance to jointly identify funding sources for the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One or the Bayanihan 3.
Defensor suggested that one source of funding is the huge amount saved by the national government from lockdowns and other movement restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said agencies are generating a lot of savings in terms of funds set aside in the 2021 national budget for travel, office supplies, materials and equipment, utilities, internet, communication, and representation, and entertainment.
“Government officials and personnel are not traveling because of the restrictions. Foreign travel, even if necessary, is difficult at this time due to border control measures. Thus, we can divert the bulk of the P17.8 billion allocated in the budget for travel to ‘ayuda” (assistance), save for a small fraction for President Duterte’s trips and those of foreign affairs officials,” he said.
He added that since most government employees are working from home, agencies are saving on utilities, office supplies, internet, communication, and similar expenses.
Defensor pointed out that the P158 billion appropriated for supplies and materials, P18.3 billion for utilities and P10.6 billion for communication could be substantially cut to raise funds for financial assistance.
He said another appropriation that can be reduced is the P26.5-billion allocation for the hiring of consultants.
“Clearly, there are a lot of items in the national budget we can cut or allocate entirely for the needed financial aid. They are for expenses we can and should avoid at this time of pandemic so we can continue helping the struggling sectors,” he said.
He said unless sure funding sources are identified, there is no use for Congress to tackle new financial assistance proposals.
“We would just be raising false hopes among the intended beneficiaries,” he said.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has disclosed that the country’s economic managers are now studying potential funding sources for Bayanihan 3, a proposal seen as a “lifeline” amid the raging pandemic that continues to cripple the economy and hurt the livelihood of millions of Filipinos.
Velasco said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told him in a virtual meeting last April 8 that the DOF and the Department of Budget and Management are now in the process of identifying sources of funds in order to move forward Bayanihan 3, which is meant to hasten the country’s economic recovery from the ravage of the health crisis.
“Our economic managers see Bayanihan 3 as a lifeline for many Filipinos facing economic hardship during this crisis, and I’m very glad that we are aligned on this,” he said.
Velasco and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, a noted economist, earlier filed their own version of Bayanihan 3 under House Bill 8628 or the “Bayanihan to Arise As One Act,” which proposes a P420-billion fund to stimulate the nation’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.
The measure seeks to allocate P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households, P100 billion for capacity-building for impacted sectors, P52 billion for wage subsidies, P70 billion for capacity-building for agricultural producers, P30 billion for internet allowances to students and teachers, P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers, P25 billion for Covid-19 treatment and vaccines, and P5 billion for the rehabilitation of areas impacted by recent floods and typhoons.
Under the measure, each household member will receive P1,000 regardless of their economic status. On top of this, a P1,000 allowance will be provided to each student and teacher and P8,000 for every displaced worker.
House Bill 8628 is pending with the House Committee on Economic Affairs, which created a technical working group to consolidate all Bayanihan 3-related measures.
Velasco said he expects that the Bayanihan 3 will be approved by the committee before the House resumes session on May 17.