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Senators eye P200-B budget to help the poor weather the COVID-19 crisis

By Hannah Torregoza

As Congress prepares for a special session on Monday, March 23, senators moved to assure that the P200-billion proposed supplemental budget aid they will pass will prioritize 16.5 million out of 22 million families, and cover 30 percent of the minimum wage for affected workers for two months.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Czar Dancel / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Czar Dancel / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the proposed budget bill lawmakers will pass will prioritize those who are daily wage earners who are most affected by the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

“Priority natin yung mga isang kahig, isang tuka, yun ang concentration,” Sotto said in an interview over GMANews TV.

Sotto said lawmakers are particularly looking at augmenting the funds of local government units (LGUs) upon the advise of the private sector who are projecting that their budget will not enough to last this coming week.

“Kahit anong yaman ng LGU, kakapusin iyan….Oo, walang pipiliin doon (Even if an LGU is reputed to be rich, they are bound to face shortage… so every LGU will be granted assistance),” the Senate leader said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said they are asking the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to provide them all the additional details on the exact number of daily wage earners so Congress can move fast to complete the legislative process.

“Sa tingin ko ang daily wage earner na dati kumikita, yan ang dapat unahin na tulungan (I think the daily wage earners who were earning before, should be prioritized),” Lacson said, also in a separate interview over GMANews TV.

“Ang construction workers, hinto, e arawan. Ang PUV drivers, biglang nawalan ng hanapbuhay yan, nakaipon ba yan nang sila namamasada? Halimbawa waiters, kailangan natin ng datos noon, e walang maibigay ang DOLE (Those construction workers, they earn daily. The PUV drivers who were suddenly laid off, were they able to save money after they stopped driving? What about the waiters? We need data, but DOLE cannot give us anything),” Lacson said.

“Ang binibigay nila minimum wage earners and salaried. (A)ng salaried kasi di ba nagbigay ng kautusan si PRRD ang employers nila mag-advance maski one buwan walang masyadong problema rin (They are giving us data about minimum wage earners and salaried. But President Duterte has already ordered their employers to advance their wages for one month so we see no problem with them),” he pointed out.

“As of last night hinihingi natin wala sila ma-provide (we are waiting for them, but they can’t provide us anything). Sa plenary hahanapin ko yan kasi importante yan (During the plenary we will look for that because that’s important),” Lacson said.

But Lacson said lawmakers should provide LGUs in Metro Manila who have a bigger internal revenue allotment (IRA) to provide frontline services to those who are in need within their vicinity.

“Quezon City, for example, has a local revenue of P14-billion; then they have a P5.7-billion in IRA. If you total the amount, they have about P19 to 20-billion. So baka pwedeng huwag na isama sa listahan ang lehitimong residente ng QC, ipaubaya natin sa local government ng QC ang pag-ayuda (So we suggest not to include legitimate residents of QC, let’s allow the QC local government to give financial aid),” the senator said.

And in order for the government to maximize and come up with a cost-effective strategy, it should authorize LGUs who are faring better financially to use their calamity fund.

“Remember, the President has already declared a national state of calamity. So we can ease some rules and they (LGUs) can now use the calamity fund to provide aid,” Lacson pointed out.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate ways and means, confirmed she will participate in the special session.

“A lot of people live day-to-day and the loss of income hits them the hardest. We will work towards legislation that will make available P200 billion, mostly as financial assistance to the 16 million families – mostly coming from the informal sector like street and market vendors, agri workers etc., to allow them to buy food and other essentials,” Cayetano said.

According to Cayetano, lawmakers also discussed the funds available for medical supplies and equipment when they met at Malacanang last Saturday night.

“We ended the day with hope knowing that we can beat COVID-19 if we all work together. God bless and protect the Philippines and our people,” Cayetano said.

Sen. Grace Poe also said she supports the government’s move to provide more funds to combat and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the country.

“We have to ensure that adequate funds are earmarked for social assistance. These funds need to reach the poorest of the poor, not only in Luzon, but all over the country,” Poe said.

“We need to support our frontline healthcare workers, who are now dealing with the impact of the disease. We should also extend assistance to affected entrepreneurs and businesses which are bearing the weight of the inactivity of the economy,” she stressed.

Poe said it is necessary for the Senate to perform its oversight function to ensure that these funds will benefit the people.

“We are pulling out all the stops to make sure that the people remain healthy, supported, and safe,” Poe said.

Source: Manila Bulletin

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