Press Release
June 1, 2020

SB 1561: Bayanihan to Recover As One Act
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto
01 June 2020

We have just emerged from the world's longest lockdown--75 days--when 109 million of us in the 13th most populous country in the planet hunkered down to stop the virus.

Although it spared us from digging mass graves, it, however, buried businesses in unpaid bills, our people in hardship, and our government in debt.

While the coronavirus does not suffocate all its victims, it sure can choke an entire economy, including ours, the 36th biggest in the world.

In our bid to flatten the curve, the needles of our economy moved to alarming lows.

2.79 million workers lost their income, putting them overnight into welfare. 103,653 firms shuttered--most temporarily, but some for good.

The quarantine cost our economy P18 billion a day.

Tax collections plummeted so much that an intaxicated government saw its April excise tax take dip from P28.6 billion to P7.2 billion year-on-year.

We can read the state of our economy from reports with numbers dripping with red ink. Or we can see it in human form - drivers begging on the streets, the long queues for cash aid, and construction workers who walk under the sun and under the stars for weeks to return empty handed to their families in the provinces.

And yet, our agony is not over. The virus remains an enigma. No cure is in sight. Ahead is the great unknown.

This measure is the "bill of lading" of the provisions that we will bring in our journey to the uncertain future, our survival tools.

Mr. President, the easy way forward is to simply extend the validity of the existing bill, which requires nothing more than changing the timestamp of its effectivity.

Or we can strengthen it, make it more potent, so that the end product is a bill that is not merely given a fresh lease on life, but is loaded with new features drawn from what our people have experienced over the past 75 days.

May I remind you, my dear colleagues, that this was the approach we had taken in tackling the bare bones bill which we collectively improved on to become the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act.

Our friends in the other House were expecting that we will rubber-stamp the Palace proposal--so much so that they didn't even bother to order lunch.

But what did we do? In the time-honored tradition of the Senate, we crossed party lines and worked until dawn to craft a vastly superior version more attuned to what our people needed.

Why did we do it? Because it has been our practice that given a proposal full of generalities, we do not call for a vote until we have the bill granular.

Instead of sweeping powers, we in the Senate fleshed out a to-do list for the executive.

We mandated cash aid for 18 million families. We required PhilHealth to pay the full cost of COVID-19 treatments.

We decreed that health frontliners be given hazard pay. We compelled the prompt testing of PUIs and PUMs.

We instituted a moratorium in paying loans, rents and utilities. We directed credit flow to key sectors of the economy, like food production.

We relaxed the procurement rules for medical supplies. We enumerated where the anti-pandemic funds should go. We institutionalized work-from-home arrangements.

And many, many more--because there is a Senate that does not automatically say yes to bills they ask for, but think on how these bills could be made better.

Mr. President, this pandemic is a tragedy of many acts. As we begin a chapter, so must we write a new playbook.

When the pandemic mutates, we adapt. We may not be able to fully flatten the curve, but we must always be ahead of it.

What are the challenges we face?

No less than an economic Armageddon.

Our GDP will contract by 15 percent, according to one estimate. Instead of a nominal GDP of P21.4 trillion, it could be in the neighborhood of P18.9 trillion, a value-added loss of two and half trillion pesos.

This will, of course, tow down revenues, from 16.8 percent of GDP to 13.6 percent, and that is seen from a rose-colored glasses.

As a result, national government debt will spike from 39.6 percent of GDP to 49.8 percent, at least.

But beyond dashboard economic indicators is the pandemic's harsh impact on Filipino lives.

The transport sector is grounded, service workers are furloughed, manufacturing has ground to a halt, and construction has ceased.

One estimate puts at 7.5 million to 10 million the number of people who will lose jobs this year. They will be joined by 300,000 Filipinos overseas who want to go home.

Also in the displaced column are 33 million students whose schooling is now interrupted, plus the 3 million teachers and auxiliary workers in education.

Throughout history, hunger has marched lockstep with pandemics, and poverty a dangerous comorbidity.

Already, the number of GNP--or Gutom na Pilipino--doubled from the 2.1 million families surveyed in December 2019, to 4.2 million families in May 2020.

If these are the ills we face, then this bill is the bag of cures. Band aids aren't enough. What is needed is a medicine cabinet approach.

This bill sets up a social safety net for those who will fall in the cracks, crank up stalled enterprises, rev up food production, ramp up virus testing that is essential for safe workplaces, so we will know when to pull the circuit breaker that will stop its spread.

In addition to programs under the Bayanihan Act, this bill authorizes the following:

To displaced workers, a wage subsidy in the amount of P30 billion, in which a qualified individual can receive up to two months of minimum wage.

To farmers, fishermen and other frontliners against hunger, various forms of production assistance through a P20 billion grant to the D.A.

To workers, P20 billion for cash-for-work activities that will boost our defense against the pandemic, like contact tracing, health facilities construction, and nutrition activities. To the DOH, P20 billion for improving public health care, so that it can respond to other diseases and health emergencies simultaneous with managing COVID-19.

To COVID-19 testing, P10 billion for Trace-Test-Treat, a shot-in-the-arm of the health imperative for more and massive testing.

To MSMEs, agri-fishery, tourism and export enterprises, P70 billion--P35 billion to the Land Bank, P15 billion to the DBP, P20 billion to the Philippine Guarantee Loans--for low interest loans.

For workers in education, transport, health, including repatriated OFWs, and those displaced in other sectors, P80 billion in assistance.

To private school teachers and part-time faculty of state colleges, a one-time cash aid of P5,000 to P8,000.

To consumers with loans, utility bills, and other payroll taxes, a 30-day grace period. Unpaid credit card and utility bills can be settled by instalment, free of interest and charges, until the end of the year.

Yes, the above will be financed largely by borrowings, but with a debt-to-GDP ratio below 50 percent, we're far from maxing out the national credit card. If the economy were a patient in ICU, there is nothing morally wrong and no fiscal canon is violated in using credit to save it.

Mr. President:

For our people, let us craft and pass this bill in true Senate bayanihanfashion.

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