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No special session to extend Bayanihan 2 – Palace

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
No special session to extend Bayanihan 2 â Palace
Congress’ adjournment is until July 25. “I don’t know of any special session, and only P 9-billion of P18-billion unobligated funds remain. As we have seen, this can be obligated in one day… So let’s not foreclose the idea that the remaining P9 billion can be obligated already,” he said. Otherwise, Roque assured the public that any unobligated funds will be returned to the national treasury.
STAR / Ernie Penaredondo, file

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang sees no need for a special Congress session to extend the validity of Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), which expires today, because the remaining P9-billion fund will likely be obligated for the government’s ongoing campaign against COVID-19.

Congress’ adjournment is until July 25. “I don’t know of any special session, and only P 9-billion of P18-billion unobligated funds remain. As we have seen, this can be obligated in one day… So let’s not foreclose the idea that the remaining P9 billion can be obligated already,” he said.

Otherwise, Roque assured the public that any unobligated funds will be returned to the national treasury.

Roque said the first P9 billion has been released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to cover the special risk allowance (SRA) for health workers directly involved in dealing with COVID patients.

Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said the SRA of workers was released through an administrative order from the Office of the President last June 1, followed by another joint circular from DBM and the Department of Health (DOH) on June 25.

About P7 billion was released to hospitals under local government units (LGUs) and the remaining P2 billion was allocated to hospitals under the DOH.

“So, we are expecting the full disbursement will be (done) until Wednesday so most probably by that time all of the health care workers, in both public and private hospitals, will receive their benefits under SRA,” Vega said.

Earlier yesterday, House leaders appealed to President Duterte to call for a special session of Congress to extend the validity of the Bayanihan 2 law, citing billions in unutilized funds.

Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez and ways and means committee chairman Joey Salceda made the appeal to prevent unused funds under the law from being returned to the national treasury.

“We have to extend the effectivity of the law again so that the government can spend whatever remains of the millions of funds we have appropriated for pandemic response,” Rodriguez stressed.

“Unless we pass another extension bill, the unspent funds would no longer be available,” the Cagayan de Oro congressman warned.

Salceda agreed and also urged the Senate to support their proposal for a special session.

“The House leadership has already made it known publicly that it is willing and able to call a special session if the Senate does the same. We need the concurrence of the Senate to make it worthwhile. The Palace has already given a statement of no-objection. I hope our counterparts in the Senate invoke their own rules and go back to session,” the Albay congressman said.

Salceda argued that the expiration of Bayanihan 2 with billions in funds left would lead to “complications with those who have already rendered services to the government, such as transport service contractors, who are still unpaid.”

“I am also alarmed that the contracts for contact tracers and human resources for health under Bayanihan 2 will expire on June 30, with no alternatives in sight.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), along with its mother agency the Department of Transportation (DOTr), still owes the transportation sector almost P5 billion in funds under Bayanihan 2, Salceda said.

“The service has already been obligated. Filipino workers are clearly in need of more public transport options. The funds are available, although expiring soon. We have to release these funds without delay,” he asserted.

Salceda called on both DOTr and LTFRB to release around P4.6 billion that the government owes to service contractors such as bus and jeepney operators under the transport service contracting program funded by Bayanihan 2.

“The P5.5 billion is already a government payable. The least we can do is actually pay them,” Salceda said. “If we’re not paying contractors for services they already rendered, how will we keep this program running?” he asked.

“From the very start, I already asserted that the only way to prevent overcrowding in public transport is through more public transport supply, not bans on public transport routes. Now, that was acknowledged through service contracting programs,” he said.

“Congress opens on July 26. That’s 26 days without an alternative, a terrifying prospect considering that COVID-19 is raging in the provinces,” he explained.

Rodriguez and Salceda both explained that a special session would also give Congress the opportunity to approve the proposed Bayanihan 3 law that would provide further financial assistance to the poor and other sectors suffering from the pandemic.

They made the appeal after Majority Leader Martin Romualdez admitted that there might no longer be time for a special session as Congress might just opt to wait for the resumption of session on July 26 to act on the pandemic response measures.

Reports said that more than P18 billion of the P165 billion appropriated by Congress under Bayanihan 2 still had to be disbursed as of last week.

But presidential spokesman Harry Roque clarified that only P18.4 billion or 13 percent of the Bayanihan 2 funds “has not been obligated.” – Edu Punay, Delon Porcalla

BAYANIHAN 2
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