Romualdez: Duterte to ensure PH’s survival

Martin Romualdez
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Wednesday said the signing into law by President Rodrigo Duterte of “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020" will make stronger and responsive the deployment of government’s “emergency relief” as rapidly as possible especially to 18 million low-income families and medical frontliners.

“The authorized powers of President Duterte under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020 are meant to provide emergency relief for the people especially food packs, non-food items and boost protection of frontliners amid COVID-19 pandemic,” said Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules.

Romualdez said ensuring the nation’s survival is the heart and soul of the law where Duterte will extend P100,000 for every COVID-19 infected health worker and P1 million to those who may die and provide P5,000 to P8,000 monthly subsidy to each family for two months to around 18 million low-income households.

Ako Bisaya party-list Rep. Sonny Lagon joined Romualdez in hailing Duterte for swiftly signing the law, which declares a state of national emergency, provides stronger measures to boost government’s fight against COVID-19 and extends economic and safety assistance to frontliners and all affected by COVID-19.

“I congratulate President Duterte for showing decisive action in defeating COVID-19. His full support to our health workers who will be receiving a special risk allowance on top of their regular hazard pay is very laudable. The law will also provide subsidy to our low-income earners households. President Duterte has been working very hard, effectively and quickly for us to recover from this pandemic,” said Lagon, an ally of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) where Romualdez is president.

Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero, president of the 54-strong Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI), lauded Duterte for signing the measure into law where his additional powers would help curb the spread of COVID-19). “The Party-list Coalition is in full support of the measure. We are one in our fight vs COVID-19. We are throwing our full support to the President in combating this invisible enemy that can cause thousand or even millions of infections and even death. Filipinos must have a fighting chance. This P275 billion lifeline is much needed by every Filipino. May God bless our country,” said Romero.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, who chairs the House committee on ways and means, urged everyone to support the government as he proposed rapid disbursement mechanism for Bayanihan Act subsidy, calling the emergency grant “make or break” for the economy Salceda suggested to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases a rapid disbursement mechanism for the distribution of emergency subsidies under the Bayanihan Act of 2020.

“We must keep everyone on the boat. If we will heal as one, as the bill hopes to do, no one must be left behind. So, the lists have to be as inclusive as possible,” said Salceda. “The principle that must be adopted is primarily humanitarian. Dapat makarating sa nangangailangan. So, our lists must cover the target sectors entirely. That’s why I’m proposing the IATF that we consider referring to different conduits and different lists, tapos cross-check na lang. Let’s also open it for application. If you can prove na nasaktan ka ng enhanced community quarantine at magugutom ka kapag walang assistance, you should qualify,” Salceda added.

“We ran mass-based grants when I was Governor. Coming up with a list, lalo per household ito, is challenging kasi hindi tagged at hind integrated ang data base. But the need for assisting quarantined family is urgent so you will have to give out benefits as soon as possible to the sectors that you have already captured, and then open the lists for possible addition, using other lists and an open application system,” Salceda stressed.

Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon (BH) party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera said “we are thankful to our colleagues in both Houses of Congress for adopting our proposed amendments including the provision that penalizes the spread of fake news regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Herrera said Section 6 (f) states that "individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts shall be punished with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million or both such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court.”

“We are also grateful that our proposal to change the language and replace the word cancellation of appropriated programs, projects and activities were also carried,” said Herrera.

“Section 4 (v) states that the President is authorized to direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities of any agency of the Executive Department, including government-owned or-controlled corporations (GOCC), in the FYs 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), whether released or unreleased, the allotments for which remain unobligated, and utilize the savings generated therefrom to augment the allocation for any item directly related to support operations and response measures, which are necessary or beneficial in order to address the COVID-19 emergency," Herrera added.

Since the declaration of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, Herrera has been calling for the suspension of filing and payment of taxes, as well as the suspension of payment of all loans and credit card payments. 

“We are very happy that these provisions are included in the law under the following section: Section 4 (z) Move statutory deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law, and the grant of any benefit, in order to ease the burden on individuals under Community Quarantine,” said Herrera.

"Section 4 (aa) Direct all banks, quasi-banks, financing companies, lending companies, and other financial institutions, public and private, including the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System and Pag-ibig Fund, to implement a minimum of a thirty (30)-day grace period for the payment of all loans, including but not limited to salary, personal, housing, and motor vehicle loans, as well as credit card payments, falling due within the period of the enhanced community quarantine without incurring interests, penalties, fees, or other charges,” the law said.

While a 30-day grace period is provided on residential rents under Section 4 (bb), Herrera said she expects landlords to follow suit and waive rent payments for small businesses. “Although it is not specified in the law, I am hopeful that the government will extend much-needed assistance to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who are also greatly affected by this health crisis.

We will continue to urge government agencies to make emergency loans available for MSMEs. Since availability of credit is assured under the law by lowering the effective lending rates of interest and reserve requirements of lending institutions, we are calling on the BSP to regulate this in favor of productive small and medium businesses. We hope that in the implementing rules of this law, it would clear that MSMEs, and not the big businesses, will benefit from this provision,” said Herrera.

“With the enactment of this measure, we are looking forward to the immediate and efficient implementation of programs that will provide safety nets for all affected families and sectors. Moving forward, we will continue to perform our oversight function to make sure that the funds to be allocated will be spent properly for the benefit of the Filipino people,” said Herrera.