P401-billion Bayanihan 3 bill now up for Senate debates after clearing House hurdle
The all-inclusive cash aid will cover the rich, the poor and those in the middle class and will be distributed in two tranches under the P401-billion measure, its proponents said.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos, File photo

P401-billion Bayanihan 3 bill now up for Senate debates after clearing House hurdle

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - June 1, 2021 - 4:46pm

MANILA, Philippines — A proposed P401-billion pandemic relief package meant to help sectors battered by renewed lockdowns is now on its way to the Senate after clearing the final hurdle at the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Voting 238-0, with one abstention, the Lower House approved on third and final reading Bayanihan To Arise As One Act, popularly known as Bayanihan 3 bill.

With over 90% of House lawmakers authoring the measure, including House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco himself, the swift and overwhelming approval of the bill was expected. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman abstained from voting, saying the current version of the measure has “nebulous or questionable” provisions.

The measure will now move to the Senate, where it is expected to encounter some problems. Earlier this week, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said senators don’t have enough time to tackle the bill. “We have barely 4 days and there are a lot on our plate," Sotto told ANC's Headstart.

The bill seeks to provide funds for coronavirus programs, including the dual-tranche distribution of P2,000 cash aid to each Filipino, regardless of social status, that could cost the government P216 billion. The measure would also provide wage subsidies amounting to P20 billion for those who lost their jobs due to fresh lockdowns, and P4 billion funds to support teachers in their online classes.

Another spending item in the bill that stands out is a P54.6-billion allocation for pension and gratuity fund for military and police. This is the second biggest appropriation in the measure based on the House-approved version of the bill.

But even if the bill manages to clear the Senate hurdle, Bayanihan 3 would still have to face the veto-threatening Malacañang. So far, President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic managers are cool to any new spending plans, arguing that the government’s budget deficit is now ballooning at a “concerning” rate as the country’s pandemic needs grow.

In a bid to win concessions with economic officials, authors of Bayanihan 3 said P165.9 billion in additional disbursements would be automatically released once the measure is enacted and if the Treasury certifies that there are enough funds for it. The remaining P234.6 appropriation would only be activated once new sources of revenues have been identified.

But it was not enough to convince the Palace to give the bill a presidential certification, which would expedite the legislation’s passage. “We are still spending our existing budget,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

For his part, Velasco believes the bill must be passed “urgently and immediately” to bring help to pandemic-stricken Filipinos. “Bayanihan 3 offers a real lifeline for our countrymen struggling to navigate the challenges of COVID-19,” he said in a statement.

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