Bayanihan 2 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act expired Wednesday with over P18 billion of unobligated funds.
The Palace did not call for a special session of Congress to extend the validity of the law, but Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said lawmakers can pass new legislation so that the unused funds earmarked by the law can still be used and not be returned to the national treasury.
The law’s expiry also means the end of the government’s free ride program.
The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board said it will halt its service contracting for the Libreng Sakay (and Free Ride) program, which includes the EDSA bus carousel, starting July 1.
“The funds used to pay drivers and operators under the program come from the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act,” LTFRB said in a statement.
LTFRB chairman Martin Delgra said the EDSA bus carousel fare will now range from P13 to P61.
Health workers from different government hospitals, meanwhile, held a “sit-down protest” and noise barrage at the Department of Health in Manila to demand the release of benefits due them under the expired law, including meal, accommodation, transportation and special risk allowances and hazard pay.
Wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE), the health workers simultaneously sat on the ground and rattled empty pots while holding placards to show their disappointment with the DOH and the Duterte administration.
“It is very clear that the DOH and this government has enough funds. But the question is, where are these funds now?” said Robert Mendoza, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).
“Today is the last day of Bayanihan Law 2 and yet, we are still fighting and calling the DOH to immediately release our hard- earned benefits. We are very frustrated and angry with the DOH, the agency that is primarily mandated to look after our rights, protection and welfare. This is indeed a clear manifestation that the DOH and the Duterte administration are abandoning their role and responsibility to protect us.”
AHW sent a letter to President Duterte on June 25 seeking immediate intervention and action regarding health workers’ issues and concerns.
“To date, we still do not receive our meal, accommodation and transportation benefits. Worse, our hospital budget and finance officers said that DOH will only return back the funds for our meal, accommodation benefit but only 30 percent of the P56 million funds that they recalled from our hospital (Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center). And same goes with other various hospitals that were forced to comply with the DOH order. Where will they take the remaining funds now? We are strongly demanding the DOH to fully release the P38,000 per health worker allotment for meal, accommodation and transportation benefit,” said Cristy Donguines, president of the employees union at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center.
“The gross incompetence and neglect of the DOH and the Duterte government is too much. We have suffered more than enough and we are extremely demoralized,” she said. “We don’t deserve to beg for these benefits as these were already provided by law in due recognition of our historical role in battling this pandemic. Many from our fellow health workers have been infected and some lay down their lives just to combat the deadly virus. Worst of all, they died without even enjoying the benefits they deserved.”
The workers said they wanted Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other officials held accountable for their gross neglect of health workers’ welfare.
House Deputy Minority leader Carlos Isagani Zarate on Wednesday demanded a full accounting of the funds for Bayanihan 1 and 2 as the funds for Bayanihan 2 expired on June 30 with billions still to be obligated.
Citing Department of Budget and Management data, Zarate, nominee of Bayan Muna party-list group, said the Bayanihan 1 and 2 fund releases and disbursements came to P217.2 billion as of April 15, 2021.
“Just the other day the DBM said that only P9 billion remains to be obligated under Bayanihan 2 but with the government’s low capacity to disburse and obligate, and a persistent showing of such absorptive capacity, we want to know how an amount of more than 200 billion was used in less than 3 months. The people must know where these public funds go,” Zarate said.
“Without proper accounting, we cannot blame the people for thinking that this administration is trying to create an enormous war chest in the run up for the 2022 elections,” he added.
Zarate also assailed the administration for “sleeping on the Bayanihan 3” bill while spending billions of pesos on weapons and other war materiel.
“It seems that instead of saving lives and alleviating the plight of our people gravely hit by this crisis aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the skewed priority of the Duterte administration is to feed or heal our people with more weapons of death,” Zarate said.
The Duterte administration is reportedly spending $2.43 billion or P118 billion in an arms deal with the United States. Earlier, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced that the Philippines had applied to buy 12 fourth generation fighter jets.
“If this P118 billion is instead used to fund the Bayanihan 3, then more Filipinos would benefit from it. This amount is already around 30 percent of the “ayuda” or assistance packages of Bayanihan 3 and would even go a long way in boosting our economy,” Zarate said.