Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has thanked the Congress for acting quickly during its break on a legislative measure empowering President Duterte to tap all available state resources to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and provide a multibillion-peso economic relief package primarily for the 18 million poor and low-income households most affected by this global health crisis.
Following the bill’s congressional approval on Monday, Dominguez–the head of the state economic team–assured the Congress that state funds that President Duterte is now authorized under the measure to reprogram, realign, reallocate or reutilize would not affect the government’s economic pump-priming and anti-poverty measures, such as its centerpiece infrastructure program “Build, Build, Build.”
“We thank Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the rest of the members of the 18th Congress for convening a special session during their Lenten break to approve right away this urgent bill. The sense of urgency our lawmakers in both chambers have demonstrated in passing this measure shows their solidarity with the Administration, the Filipino people and the private sector in defeating the pandemic and providing succor to families most affected by government efforts to defeat the coronavirus,” Dominguez said.
The House of Representatives adopted the Senate-approved version of the measure—Senate Bill (SB) No. 1418—which included provisions on the grant of subsidies of between P5,000 and P8,000 to poor and low-income households, depending on the prevailing minimum wage rates in their regions; additional risk allowance for frontline healthcare personnel on top of their hazard pay; and compensation for healthcare workers infected by COVID-19 and for the families of those who died in the line of duty.
Dominguez said the Executive Branch and the Legislature are in agreement that the utmost priority of the measure, dubbed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, is to provide food rations, cash transfers and other forms of emergency assistance to an estimated 18 million families who were either deprived, or have no means of, livelihood when the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was carried out to restrict the movement of people and slow the spread of the highly infectious virus.
The bill was first discussed during a meeting called by President Duterte last Saturday with Cabinet officials and leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Dominguez was among the Cabinet officials present at the meeting.
“With the help of the Congress, the Duterte administration will be able to use all available state resources to slow the spread of this COVID-19 virus and cushion its adverse economic impact on marginalized and vulnerable sectors,” Dominguez said.
President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 929 on March 17 placing the entire country under a state of calamity for six months following the sustained community transmission of COVID-19, which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Before that, on March 16, the President placed Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon under an ECQ to restrict personal movement in a bid to prevent the exponential spread of this lethal virus. The ECQ will last until April 12.
According to WHO data, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections worldwide went up to 372,757 with 16,231 deaths as of March 24.
In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) reported a spike in the caseload to 552 infections and 35 deaths as of Wednesday.