Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda has renewed his appeal to the House leadership on the need for both chambers of Congress to hold a special session to extend the validity of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.
The law’s validity expires on June 30, 2021.
Also, Senator Francis Pangilinan on Tuesday urged the immediate release of the COVID-19 funds specified in Bayanihan 2.
He said the law specifies where the funds should go, and these funds will not be reverted to the general funds if obligated on or before June 30.
In his aide memoire to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez dated June 21, Salceda said that without an extension to Bayanihan 2, “provinces potentially face a situation of having their contact tracing and healthcare response capacities drastically reduced for at least 26 days during a period of COVID-19 case surges.”
“The extension is a matter of life and death in many communities, as contact tracers and augmented human resources for health were hired under Bayanihan 2 contracts that will also expire by June 30,” Salceda said.
If Bayanihan 2 expires, this will also mean P15.2 billion in various economic support programs to expire, he added.
Salceda also noted that as of May 31, more than P18.4 billion in unobligated funds for critical pandemic response and recovery programs are about to expire.
As chairman of the House committee on ways and means, Salceda asked the Department of Transportation and Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to release around P4.6 billion that the government owes to service contractors such as bus and jeepney operators under the transport service contracting program funded by Bayanihan 2.
As confirmed by the LTFRB in a June 17 briefing, Salceda said only P1 billion of P5.5 billion allotted for the program has been distributed to service contractors.
“The service has already been obligated. Filipino workers are clearly in need of more public transport options. The funds are available, although expiring soon. We have to release these funds without delay,” Salceda said.
Salceda added that safe, efficient public transport options through service contracting will help prevent overcrowding among commuters.
“From the very start of this pandemic, I already asserted that the only way to prevent overcrowding in public transport is through more public transport supply, not bans on public transport routes. Now, that was acknowledged through service contracting programs. But if we’re not paying contractors for services they already rendered, how will we keep this program running?”
“The P5.5 billion is already a government payable. The least we can do is actually pay them,” Salceda said.
Salceda also warned of what he called a “looming complication” in paying service contractors due to the expiry of Bayanihan 2, which authorized the program.
“Bayanihan 2 is expiring on June 30. We have to reauthorize the appropriations under the package, or else, we won’t be authorized by any law to pay the service contractors.”
“That’s a complication, and a humiliating one. Parang nag-1-2-3 sa jeep ang gobyerno kung mag-expire ang Bayanihan 2 pero hindi natin babayaran ang service contractors.”
“There is 3 billion in the 2021 General Appropriations Act for transport service contracting, but that is just half of what we have under Bayanihan 2. That will not be enough, especially as more face-to-face work resumes,” Salceda warned.
Asked on the proposal for special congressional sessions to discuss extending the effectivity of the law, Pangilinan replied, “Right now, the ball is with the court of the Executive Department. “
He said the Executive Department has basis to spend it.
“They have basis to release it. They have basis to obligate it. So that’s what they should do?” He asked.
Pangilinan said the law specifies where the funds should go, and these funds will not be reverted to the general funds if obligated on or before June 30.
“It is really the challenge for the Executive Department because if we pass it now, we extend it now, it’s not yet obligated. And it won’t expire by June 30 if already obligated. So, where’s the ball? It’s with them,” he added.
Pangilinan said special sessions will still necessitate that the Executive obligate, source, and release the funds.
He reiterated that his call is for the release of the un-obligated and un-released P173 billion specified in Bayanihan 2 Law.
“Of course, release might be a bigger challenge kasi 173 billion [pesos] yan. At ang sinasabi, they are still sourcing the funds. Nasa Executive Department pa rin ‘yan. Wala sa legislature.”
At the same time, Pangilinan, who requested for Senate Committee of the Whole hearings on the vaccine roll-out, said the country needs a swift, adaptable response to stem the spread of the virus.
Section 4 (p) of Bayanihan 2 specifies in part that while the IATF-EID “shall be responsible for providing guidance on cross-border concerns… the LGUs shall determine the policies and regulations within their respective jurisdictions.”
Asked if a uniform quarantine protocol is needed nationwide, he said: “Hindi pwede ‘yung one size fits all.”
At the same time, Pangilinan said the government should come up with a united front and a clear direction on how to bring the country back from the pandemic.