AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Our country needs men and women who have foresight. The IATF guidelines will not be effective unless they are implemented efficiently. The challenge is how do small, medium or large-scale entities, private and public, put all the protocols into action. The struggle continues in all sectors. There seems to be some difficulty achieving the “new normal.”

It has been seven months since the pandemic in the Philippines began. Seven months of thinking, planning and putting things into action should be enough to create some calming effect on the citizens. But why do we continue to act confused and seemingly uninformed or misinformed? Why do COVID-19 cases continue to rise?

Surprisingly, last week the President signed Proclamation No.1021, extending the declaration of a state of calamity throughout the country “for a period of one year” – from Sept. 13, 2020 to Sept. 12, 2021. Didn’t he just assure us that the country will be back to normal by December 2020?

So, what is in the proclamation? (1) He called on all government agencies and LGUs to cooperate and mobilize necessary resources to “undertake critical, urgent and appropriate disaster response aid and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the threat of COVID-19”; (2) the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been directed to implement all necessary measures “to ensure peace and order” in affected areas.

Aside from the proclamation, the President also signed the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, a sequel to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA 11469). The Bayanihan 2 has the following highlights: (1) it will scrutinize the implementation of government programs related to the pandemic and provide emergency aid to individuals; (2) monitor how the government agencies disburse efficiently the allocated budget and ensure that the Social Amelioration Program is distributed  accordingly to the definitive beneficiaries; (3) hasten the recovery of business sectors hit hard by this COVID-19 pandemic; (4) cover compensation for medical frontliners and (5) allot funding for medical supplies to better equip the health sector in its testing, contact tracing and treatment.

This Act will provide a P165.5-billion stimulus plan consisting of P140 billion worth of regular appropriations to cover the following: (1) P3 billion for the procurement of face masks, personal protective equipment, shoe covers and face shields; (2) provide for the government health-related responses like the retroactive payment of the P100,000 hazard duty pay for health workers; (3) employment of existing emergency health workers; (4) risk allowance of public and private health workers attending to COVID-19 patients, among others; (5) P4.5 billion for the construction of temporary medical isolation and quarantine facilities, field hospitals, dormitories and expansion of government hospital capacity; (6) another P4.5 billion for Office of Civil Defense or National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council isolation facilities and other requirements including billing of hotels, food and transportation used by COVID-19 patients; (7) P13.5 billion for the DOH to employ emergency Human Resources for Health; (8) P820 million as a fund for overseas Filipinos under the Department of Foreign Affairs; (9) P13 billion for the government’s cash-for-work program and other support programs for impacted sectors; (10) P600 million as subsidies and allowances for students severely impacted by the pandemic; (11) P300 million as subsidies and allowances to teaching and non-teaching personnel and part-time faculty in state universities and colleges; (12) P180 million as allowance for our national athletes and coaches; (13) P39.472 billion (biggest share of the budget) is allotted as capital infusion to government banks, broken down as follows – P10 billion for the Department of Trade and Industry’s Small Business Corporation (SBCorp), P4 billion will be devoted to low-interest loans – micro, small and medium enterprises, cooperatives, hospitals and overseas Filipino workers, and P6 billion for tourism, P18.4725 billion for the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), P6 billion for the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and P5 billion for the Philippine Guarantee Corporation.

The budget will also cover P24 billion as assistance to the agricultural sector and the Plant, Plant, Plant initiative under the Department of Agriculture; P9.5 billion in assistance to the transportation industry; P4 billion for the tourism industry and another P100M for tourist guides training and subsidies; P3 billion for the development of smart campuses across the country; P1 billion for Technical Educational Skills Development Authority scholarships; P6 billion for Department of Social Welfare and Development’s assistance to individuals in crisis situations; P4 billion for the Department of Education’s implementation of digital education; P1.5 billion as assistance to local government units and another P2 billion as subsidy for the payment of interest on loans secured by LGUs from government banks; P5 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government to hire more contact tracers; P2.5 million for the computer-based licensure of the Philippine Red Cross; P10 million for the research fund of the Health Technology Assessment Council, which was created under the Universal Health Care Law and P15 million for UP Diliman’s Computational Research Lab.

The P25.5-billion standby fund will be allocated as follows: P10 billion will be allocated for COVID-19 testing and procurement of vaccines and medicines and P15.5 billion will be provided to government banks as additional capital infusion.

Wow! Maligayang Pasko sa inyong lahat (Merry Christmas to all). This looks like a wish list for Santa Claus. And even Santa will surely get a big headache from this special wish list. Whoever came up with this list is in dreamland. Where will the government get all the money for this? The taxpayers have no work while many businesses are closing. Susmariosep!

I hope our lawmakers tell us where all this money will be coming from. It gives me some sort of arrhythmia and mental panic thinking about it. Again, it triggers unnecessary fears and anxiety.

I thought Bayanihan means helping each other? In the façade it truly looks like government is giving all the help it can give. But when you think about it, where will it get the help from? Where will it get the money for this ambitious act? Such big budgeted endeavor will need megabucks. So, tell us how will this become a reality? Count your taxpayers. They are diminishing in number. Will the Bayanihan 2 live up to its name not only for the minority but also for most of the Filipino people? Abangan!

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