âP18 billion wasted as Bayanihan 2 expires this monthâ
Describing it as a “life-or-death decision,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda pushed yesterday for the holding of a “special session” while Congress is in recess for the purpose of extending the validity of the legislated fund at least until yearend.
STAR/Ernie Penaredondo, file

‘P18 billion wasted as Bayanihan 2 expires this month’

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An estimated P18 billion in unutilized funds for pandemic response programs would go to waste when Republic Act No. 11519 or Bayanihan 2 expires on June 30 amid the dire need to arrest the surge in COVID-19 infections in many provinces.

Describing it as a “life-or-death decision,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda pushed yesterday for the holding of a “special session” while Congress is in recess for the purpose of extending the validity of the legislated fund at least until yearend.

The chairman of the House ways and means committee explained that when Bayanihan 2 expires on June 30, funding for the contracts of contact tracers and human resources for health (HRH) hired under the package would also lapse.

“Without such extension, provinces potentially face a situation of having their contact tracing and healthcare response capacities drastically reduced for at least 26 days (from the June 30 expiry of contracts to July 26, the opening of session) during a period of COVID-19 case surges,” he wrote in an aide memoire to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.

Salceda said local response teams and civil society groups have requested Congress to pass a bill extending the appropriations and capacity to obligate and disburse funds until Dec. 31.

However, Congress went on recess last June 4 and resumes session on July 26, when President Duterte delivers his last State of the Nation Address.

“This is a life-or-death decision for many provinces. We can’t afford a month without contact tracing or with reduced health capacity,” Salceda warned. “Positivity rates are also above five percent in all regions. This is apart from the surges in Bicol, Visayas and Mindanao.”

As of May 31, the financial report from the Department of Budget and Management on Bayanihan 2 indicated there is over P18.4 billion in unobligated funds for critical pandemic response and recovery programs that are about to expire.

“The funds that will expire include P6.6 billion for laboratory testing and HRH, and about P873 million for contact tracing. We still need those funds, especially with the surge in cases,” Salceda added.

In pushing for a special session, he said the 1987 Constitution allows such, since Article VI Section 15 provides that “the President may call a special session at any time.”

“The House and the Senate are also allowed by their respective rules to call for a special session without the President’s call. We can do it as Congress, but it would really be better if the President calls for the special session instead. I am sure he is open, since he has also been closely monitoring our situation in Albay,” Salceda said.

‘Use fund for vaccines’

At the Senate, a call was made yesterday for the President to obligate the remaining P173 billion allocated under the Bayanihan 2 to procure COVID-19 vaccines before the law expires.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said that while the Department of Health is seeking an additional P66 billion for COVID-19 response, about P173 billion under Bayanihan 2 have not been obligated or released when the law expires in 10 days.

The law was already extended six months from its original expiry on Dec. 31, 2020.

Pangilinan said this fund should be used to ramp up vaccination and help the country recover from recession, but that the government has a lot of catching up to do to achieve its promised inoculation of 70 million Filipinos by yearend.

“We have some worries because right now, we’re just on 100,000 jabs a day and the projection is that we must have 70 million jabs at the end of the year, and if we compute that, our vaccine jabs should be 700,000 a day,” Pangilinan said in Filipino.

He said efforts of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases remain wanting in giving the jabs to Filipinos, which are seen as key to fully opening up the economy, making people go back to their jobs and giving opportunities to the jobless. – Paolo Romero

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