P568B stimulus package to be submitted to DCC Monday

Martin Romualdez
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez

THE Economic Stimulus cluster will submit this Monday to the Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) chaired by House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez its P568-billion Economic Stimulus Package to cushion the impact of the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID) pandemic in the country.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, a co-chairperson of the DCC’s Economic Stimulus cluster, said the Romualdez-led DCC with Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is expected to immediately adopt their committee report for swift approval in the Plenary.

"Bukas (Monday) po isa-submit na po ang Philippine Economic Stimulus Act. Ito ay pinagkaisahan na po ng liderato ng House of Representatives na talagang itong P568 billion ang s’ya po naming ipu-pursige dahil ito po ang dapat, at sa tingin namin hindi po nito isinusugal ang kinabukasan ng karamihan," said Salceda, the chairman of the House committee on ways and means, told a radio interview Sunday.

Salceda echoed Romualdez’s statement that the economic stimulus program is meant to ensure business operations and jobs’ retention in this time of COVID-19 pandemic.

"In fact ito ay proportional sa problema na hinaharap natin. Napakalaking crater ang ginawa ng COVID sa ating ekonomiya, so ito po ang pantapal natin," Salceda stressed.

He said that an estimated 4.1 million employees from the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are expected to benefit under the economic stimulus package by rescuing their troubled companies.

According to Salceda, MSMEs will receive P50 billion loans from Small Business Corp. and another P10 billion aid through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said 99.52 percent or 998,342 of the 1,003,111 business enterprises operating across the country are MSMEs.

The Albay House leader said the P568-billion Economic Stimulus Package covers P110 billion wage subsidies for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the P30 billion Cash For Work under DOLE-Tulong Panghanapbuhay para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD).

"May nakalaan na P30 billion para sa informal sector dahil napakarami sa kanila ang nawalan ng trabaho. Kahit na nga ngayon dahan-dahan nating pina-panumbalik ang ating ekonomiya, subalit hindi lahat ‘yun sa ngayong taon ay makababalik sa kanilang trabaho," Salceda explained.

Salceda also said that the economic stimulus package also provides P130 billion for interest-free loans at the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), P10 billion for loan guarantees, and P25-billion capitalization for the National Development Corporation (NDC).

Under the program, Salceda said different sectors will be given assistance like tourism, P58 billion; transportation, P75 billion; industry and service sectors, P44 billion; and agri-fishery, P66 billion.

Following the extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, Salceda lamented that the total economic losses now stood at P1.2 trillion.

"For the second quarter, P892 billion ang foregone GDP (Gross Domestic Product). For the first quarter, mga nasa P320 billion po. Masasabi natin po na umabot sa P1.2 trillion," Salceda explained. He also underscored the importance to enhance the implementation of the government's Build, Build, Build (BBB) program, which seeks to create more jobs to recover the estimated P1.2 trillion economic losses.

At the same time, Salceda urged the government to strengthen its COVID-19 testing, contract tracing and treatment capacities to prevent the second wave infections.

"Habang dahan-dahan na inire-release natin ang mga tao sa ekonomiya, dapat mas masipag din ang gobyerno sa paghanap ng kaso [ng COVID-19], sa pagte-test at pagte-treat," said Salceda.

2021 NAT’L BUDGET TO HELP PH RECOVER FROM COVID-19

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has pushed for a “re-prioritization” of the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), with a hefty part of the annual budget going not only to infrastructure and social services but also to agricultural development—“with the long-term goal of attaining sufficiency in rice and other basic foodstuff in the post-pandemic scenario.”

“Alongside ‘Build, Build, Build,’ the Duterte administration needs to likewise put ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ on the front burner to best prepare the country for the ‘new normal’ once the pandemic spawned by the lethal Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) has been contained,” Villafuerte, a former vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations, said.

Hence, the deputy speaker for finance said he welcomed the proposed five-pronged priority agenda that Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III announced during the televised Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases briefing by President Duterte that was aired last May 12, in which Dominguez listed “Build, Build, Build” and food production among these priorities to restart the economy.

Villafuerte said that in support of higher farm productivity, the social amelioration subpanel of the House’s Defeat Covid-19 Committee (DCC)  has passed House Resolution (HR) 821 backing a supplemental budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) for its food supply availability and price stabilization programs.

This DCC subpanel co-chaired by Villafuerte endorsed during its latest virtual meeting HR No. 821 authored by San Jose del Monte City Rep. Florida Robes, subject to amendments proposed by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, who chairs the House committee on agriculture and food.

He recalled that Agriculture Secretary William Dar likewise said last month the country must first surpass the global crisis and, from there, build its own resilience to threats like Covid-19 and climate change, by focusing on three principles, namely "survive, reboot and grow."

Villafuerte, the lead author in the House of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,  is seeking a two-fold or even three-fold increase in the 2021 budget  of the Department of Agriculture (DA), and has proposed to the Congress to augment the 2020 outlay of the Department so it could dramatically  boost agricultural productivity in the year’s second half and in 2021.

Villafuerte, along with Cayetano, Romualdez and six more legislators have come up with a three-year, P1.5-trillion stimulus program anchored on infrastructure and farm spending, especially in the countryside, as the “cures’ to reset the economy and generate a lot of jobs following the sudden work stoppage set off by the quarantine measures that were effected in mid-March to hold back the Covid-19 pandemic.

With infrastructure investments having the highest multiplier effect on the economy, these House leaders introduced House Bill (HB) No. 6709 in a bid to dramatically raise state spending on health, education, agriculture, local infrastructure and livelihood (HEAL)—and blunt the impact of what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to be the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Aside from the Speaker, Romualdez and Villafuerte, the bill’s co-authors are Deputy Speakers Paolo Duterte and Loren Legarda; and Reps. Eric Yap, Maria Laarni Cayetano, Michael Defensor and Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado.

As regards boosting agricultural production, Villafuerte said the DA needs an extra or emergency allocation of P31 billion this year to increase agri-fishery output through the large-scale use of high-yield quality seeds, vital farm inputs like fertilizers, and modern technologies to increase levels of productivity for all commodities.

He said the DA needs this amount for its Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (Alpas) Kontra sa Covid-19 program, which is the Department’s initiative to raise agricultural productivity and achieve food sufficiency during and after the global health crisis.

The DA has secured an extra P8.5 billion for the rice-resiliency component of its Alpas project, but is still awaiting Palace approval for the balance of P21.5 billion for the rest of its self-sufficiency program.

Villafuerte said that even the budget of the National Food Authority (NFA) should be increased, he said, so it could scale up its rice inventory by buying more palay from local farmers at a higher support price.

He said that “while rebooting the President’s centerpiece infrastructure modernization program would enable the economy to stage a quick recovery as soon as the pandemic is over, giving top priority as well to agriculture development would boost farm output that would, hopefully, make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice and other basic foodstuff in the long run.”

“If there is one thing that the ongoing global health crisis has taught us this early, is the primacy of self-sufficiency as countries isolate themselves and shutter their businesses in a frantic bid to prevent the spread of a highly infectious pathogen that has sickened almost two million people and killed over 123,000 across the globe,” he said.

Although it might be easier and even cheaper to just import rice and other prime agricultural products, the tendency of certain countries to hold off on exports of their surplus commodities would work against our favor in the post-pandemic era.

In one disturbing development, Villafuerte recalled that Vietnam, which is the No. 1 source of the Philippines’ rice imports, bared plans in March to reduce or even put off exports of its surplus rice stocks, to guarantee enough supply for its people during the health crisis.

Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar are the Philippines’ main sources of imported rice, with Vietnam accounting for about two-thirds of such shipments.

Earlier reports claimed that Russia has planned to cut its grains shipments abroad to protect its own food security while Kazakhstan has also banned the overseas sale of its wheat flour, carrots, sugar and potatoes.

“What happens when the time comes after the pandemic when we might have all the money to import rice or other basic agricultural commodities, but there is nowhere to buy them?” he stressed.