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Bayanihan III backer disputes gov’t claim of limited resources

A PROPONENT of the third Bayanihan stimulus bill, Marikina Representative Stella Luz A. Quimbo, said the government has sufficient resources to implement another economic package, contrary to the Palace’s claims.

In a media forum Wednesday, Ms. Quimbo said, “As of end-November 2020, the estimated cash balance in our Treasury is P1.6 trillion… our total net borrowing is at P2.82 trillion. We have more than enough for what we need in Bayanihan III.”

She was referring to the proposed third Bayanihan economic package, which if passed in current form would be by far the biggest stimulus measure enacted during the crisis. In its current bill form, Bayanihan III calls for spending items worth P420 billion.

She was responding to remarks by Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr., who said the Palace is still evaluating the impact of the first two Bayanihan measures and the stimulus-heavy 2021 budget.

Ms. Quimbo and Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco filed last week House Bill No. 8628, which if passed will go into the books as the Bayanihan to Arise as One Act.  Mr. Velasco said the bill enjoys broad support from the chamber across all parties.

The first two stimulus measures enacted during the crisis were the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan I), which was signed in March and authorized the President to divert P270 billion in budget items to the pandemic containment effort. Signed in September, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II), authorized new spending of up to P165 billion, P25 billion of which was contingent on the availability of funds.

Ms. Quimbo called on the Palace to certify her bill as urgent, adding that the Speaker’s office is currently in the process of sending a letter formalizing such a request.

She added the economic losses of P3.2 trillion are overwhelming compared to the P165 allocated for Bayanihan II and the P250 billion in COVID-19 response funds contained in the 2021 national budget. Earlier this week, 30 legislators signed a resolution calling for an investigation into the slow release of Bayanihan II funds.

Mr. Velasco has assured that if passed, Bayanihan III implementors will expedite the process of releasing funds, according to Ms. Quimbo.

The economy in 2020 contracted by 9.5%, the largest drop since GDP (gross domestic product) records were compiled starting 1947. Ms. Quimbo has said that had Bayanihan II been rolled out more rapidly, it would have cushioned the blow on the economy.

“If we spent the P165 billion on the economy… (the effect would have been) a contraction of only 8.2%,” she said in Filipino. — Gillian M. Cortez

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