Press Release
July 28, 2020

Explanation of Vote: SB 1564 Bayanihan to Recover As One Act

Mr. President:

Today we hit the ground running as befits the call of the times.

The virus may be faster than the bureaucracy, but it should not be able to outrun this Senate.

We are passing a bill that bears the chamber's signature enterprise of being thorough, as shown by its many provisions.

Unfortunately, though our ideas on how to help our people are boundless, they are limited by the money to implement them. Revenues have always been a cap to dreams.

We have asked, vigorously, for a higher amount so that more jobless people can be given relief, more businesses can be rescued, more OFWs can be repatriated, and more resources can be sent to our medical frontlines.

But the executive has put a lid on how much we can appropriate—even if we had told them that whether the patient is one individual or 100 million, giving them only a small portion of the medicine required will be money wasted on the sick who will not be cured.

I have doubts on the therapeutic potency of this bill. I have always maintained that we have to go fast and go big. This pandemic is not a flu which can be starved.

If we need to borrow more, let us do it. Our debt numbers are far from breaching the red line.

And what should the latter be? If it is debt-to-ratio of 55 percent, this is still well below the typical 60 percent prudential limit. The orthodoxy that our deficit-to-GDP should not break past 9 percent has no basis. The sky will not fall if we reach 9 percent, for as long it is a one-shot deal and not end up a fiscal habit.

As parents who would borrow money to save an ill child, then as leaders we should have the mettle to do the same to save a sick nation.

So this bill is a product of compromise with a veto-threatening executive. We have been told that a peso more than the ceiling they have set, and this billlike a COVID patient in distresswill be DOA on the president's desk.

When you are up against accountants who know the price of everything but the value of nothing, yet hold the key to the vault, you must know when to raise the white flag, to retreat so you can fight another day.

So Mr. President, yes, I will vote for this bill based on their assurance that if the amounts will be found wanting, they will ask for more.

In other words, this is petty cash which can be replenished.

And my second reason is that we are about to enter the budget season, so this will give us a better view of a broader expenditure picture.

For purposes of transparency, which is the fourth important "t" after testing, tracing and treatment in the fight against COVID-19, let me go through the ledger of expenses this bill authorizes:

Its total price tag is P140 billionsounds impressive if it were a household budget, but small for a nation fighting an existential threat.

For context, let me state that P140 billion is what the government spends in 13 days. On personnel services alone, it is equivalent to our payroll and pension expenses for 43 days.

But if lockdown has reduced to a trickle our revenue taps because the fiesta season went by without barrios downing beer by the truckloads; or the trucks, having been grounded, have not been filling their gas tanks; and malls, that giant suction machine of taxes, have been closedthen what we cannot raise in taxes, we must offset in borrowings.

Kaya naman po, year-on-year, bagsak ang revenue collection natinfrom January to May by P280 billion pero lumobo ang gastusin natin ng P350 billion.

Mr. President, let me give you a breakdown:

P10 billion for testing and extraction kits, supplies, materials, and reagents for COVID-19 testing and boosting the capacity of the DOH;

P15 billion for a cash-for-work program in communities, to include contact tracing;

P17 billion in assistance to displaced workers or employees;

P50 billion in capital infusion to the following:

P5 billion to the Philippine Guarantee Corporation; P30 billion to the Land Bank of the Philippines; and P15 billion to the Development Bank of the Philippines.

These GFIs will, in turn, lend them to businesses in distress.

P17 billion for direct cash subsidy, interest-free loans and other forms of assistance to farmers, fishermen, livestock raisers and other agricultural enterprises under the canopy of the Plant-Plant-Plant program;

P17 billion for the Department of Transportation, to assist transportation workers who have lost their jobs, and for the development of a bicycle infrastructure, from dedicated lanes to units to be distributed;

P10 billion for workers in tourism enterprises, which were the first to be directly and severely hit by the pandemic. These people who are heavy contributors to the economy deserve this new tag line: More Funds in the Philippine tourism sector.

P3 billion to transform state universities into smart and ICT-boosted campuses, because while schools can be physically locked down, learning should not be; and

P1 billion for technical and vocational courses of TESDA for technicians who have to retool their skills to survive in the changed manpower landscape of the new normal.

But this bill should not be appreciated merely for the provisions that carry peso signs. It has non-monetary mandates which are important as well. If these were a Spanish-era Letras Y Figuras painting, the words are as vital as the figures.

To name a few:

The exemption from rigid procurement processes of goods and services essential in the pandemic fight, from medicine to rooms for our tired frontliners;

Directing businesses to prioritize contracts critical for the pandemic response;

Authorizing alternative working arrangements for public sector employees;

Moving back statutory deadlines for filing and submission of public documents, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law; and

Directing banks and lending institutions, utility companies and real estate lessors to grant a grace period for payment of loans, utility bills and rent.

And there are many more in the fine print of this bill that will have a large beneficial impact on our people.

Mr. President:

While this bill provides for the common welfare during these trying times, it cannot, however, legislate common sense into those who will implement it, as well as other laws.

It cannot, for example, convince those who continue to refuse partners in bed at night to ride pillion in motorbikes in the morning.

It also cannot turbocharge the allotment, obligation and disbursement of funds appropriated herein. If we cannot flatten the pandemic curve, can we not at least be behind the spending curve?

I have often said that in normal times "budget delayed is development denied."

Today, such delay is fatal.

With this reminder, I vote yes.

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