THERE’S a negative connotation affixed to the term “COVID-19”. When we hear it, we envision a global economic slowdown, the Philippine economy breaking its almost three-decade record of economic growth, cessation of business activities due to quarantine restrictions, including steep declines in household income.
With the grim economic outlook spurred by the onset of the pandemic, the so-called invisible hand, as envisioned under the economic theory, may not be able to give the economy a boost as easily as before.
Despite the not-so-rosy economic outlook and projections, the Philippine government still has a few aces up its sleeve. It has undertaken a number of initiatives geared towards improving the general welfare of the public and giving the economy a much-needed boost. Here are some of these initiatives.
To Heal: Government aid for health sector to control the increasing number of COVID-19 cases
After the President’s declaration of a State of National Emergency, Congress passed Republic Act 11469, otherwise known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1. The measure’s effectivity date is from March 25, 2020, to June 25, 2020.
It aims to better equip the executive branch of the government, under the close supervision of the President, by granting it emergency powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Bayanihan 1 has helped the health care sector build and increase its capacity to cater to the rise of COVID-19 cases. The measure also provides social amelioration and cash-for-work programs to households that had been disrupted by government-imposed lockdowns and other similar restrictions.
To Recover: Capital infusion to boost liquidity in the economy and government assistance for key sectors
On September 11, 2020, the President signed R.A. 11494 or the “Bayanihan to Recover as one Act” or Bayanihan 2 with extended effectivity until June 30, 2021.
Like Bayanihan 1, this measure granted emergency powers to the Executive Branch to help combat the pandemic. However, Bayanihan 2 places more emphasis on economic response and recovery. With businesses short in cash after months of interrupted operations, the Bayanihan 2 Act provides capital infusion to government financial institutions to boost liquidity in the economy through low-interest loans and credit guarantees, as well as regulatory relief for loans, rent, and utilities. Bayanihan 2 targeted vital sectors such as transportation, tourism, education, and small businesses that have been seriously affected by the pandemic. Furthermore, it provides significant assistance to the agricultural sector to improve the country’s food supply, thereby boosting our long-term resilience to future unforeseen disasters.
To Rise: Increased government spending to stimulate and lead the economy to full recovery
As the pandemic continues to wreak fiscal and economic havoc, the legislative and the executive branch of the government further introduced and implemented various laws to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from the Bayanihan 1 (to Heal) and Bayanihan 2 (to Recover), which were hailed as effective measures in a research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF, our legislators are seeking to enact another similar measure, the Bayanihan 3, into law.
On June 1, 2021, the House of Representatives, voting 208-0-1, passed House Bill 9411 otherwise known as the “Bayanihan to Arise as One Act” or Bayanihan 3. This bill is a P401-billion stimulus package aimed to provide “direct emergency and social amelioration program” to Filipinos hit directly by the pandemic.
The authors of the proposed law, Stella Luz Quimbo, Representative of the 2nd District of Marikina who is also an economist, and Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, have introduced the idea of increasing a well-targeted spending to increase household consumption by promoting busines, consumer confidence, and welfare. This idea is in line with the Keynesian Economics Theory, which contends that government should increase demand to boost growth.
The centerpiece of this proposed legislation is the P216-billion funding for two rounds of cash aid worth P2,000 to be given to 108 million Filipinos regardless of age and economic status.
The bill also contains allocations for wage subsidies, emergency assistance to quarantine-affected households, assistance to displaced workers, national nutrition, financial assistance to the agri-fishery sector and cooperatives, medical assistance to indigents, local government support, free COVID-19 testing for seafarers and other overseas Filipino workers, pension and gratuity fund for retired military and uniformed personnel, and support for basic and higher education.
To date, the said bill now is in the hands of Senate for action. On this note, the Senate has to concur or present its version of the bill prior to the adjournment of its session. Else, the enactment into law of this promising legislative measure will remain a bleak hope in these challenging and changing times.
As published in Mindanao Times, dated 30 June 2021