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Congress OK’s extension of Bayanihan II validity

Public utility vehicle drivers, who were displaced by the pandemic, register with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board service contracting program, Nov. 26. The program is funded by Bayanihan II. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

CONGRESS has approved the bill extending the validity of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II) by six months, a few days before the law was set to expire on Dec. 19.

The House of Representatives approved the bill on third reading on Monday evening, while the Senate passed the House version on final reading on Tuesday afternoon.

With 179 affirmative votes, six negatives, and no abstention, lawmakers approved House Bill (HB) No. 8063, which extends the validity of Republic No. 11194 or Bayanihan II until June 30, 2021.

The Senate approved the measures extending the validity of Bayanihan II and the 2020 national budget on Tuesday, after the Finance Committee adopted the House versions.

The House on Monday approved on final reading HB 6656, which extends the effectivity of the P4.1-trillion national budget until Dec. 31, 2021.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte certified the measure as urgent, which allows Congress to skip the three-day interval between the second and third reading approval.

The Senate panel adopted HB 6656 without amendments, but proposed to exclude the special powers granted to Mr. Duterte from the extension of Bayanihan II.

“We cannot agree more with President Duterte on the need to extend the effectivity of Bayanihan II in order to accelerate the country’s socioeconomic recovery from the adverse impact brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco said in a statement.

Bayanihan II, which took effect in September, allocated P140 billion for relief programs for sectors hit hard by the pandemic and another P25 billion in standby funds.

Mr. Velasco said “a huge portion of the allocation has yet to be released.”

A total of P105.775 billion has so far been released under Bayanihan II, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reported.

“If not extended, the government will have to release the remaining funds by Dec. 19, or else the funds will revert to the Bureau of the Treasury,” Mr. Velasco said.

Since March, the DBM has released a total of P498.5 billion in funds to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on Filipinos. This included fund releases under Republic Act No. 11469 or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan I) which reached P386.1 billion from March to June.

In Tuesday’s session,  Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara sponsored the bill extending the 2020 budget’s validity. Citing data from the Budget department, he said some P110 billion of the budget have yet to be released as of Nov. 13.

“With the adoption of the cash budgeting system, that means this P110 billion would need to be released and obligated before the year ends or else these are returned to the national treasury,” Mr. Angara said during the sponsorship speech.

“With just a few weeks left in the year, it would be extremely difficult for agencies with pending releases to submit the requirements.”

The extension of the 2020 national budget would help boost public spending, which was disrupted when Luzon was placed under a strict lockdown starting March to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“So unfortunately, hindi nagastos this year, that’s why you had the economy contract by roughly 10%,” Senator Ralph G. Recto said in a television interview on Tuesday.

“It would be more difficult to recover, for the economy to recover if the government spent less. Government is 25% of the total economy. The private sector will not be making those investments, which we need.”

The Philippine economy contracted by 10% in the first nine months of the year, amid weak consumption and sluggish government spending.

Congress on Wednesday will go on a month-long break until Jan. 17, 2021. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Charmaine A. Tadalan

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