PCCI asks Congress to pass P500-billion economic stimulus bill

Harsh realities become more stark in the face of the pandemic, as businesses are ordered closed and people told to stay indoors and keep a safe distance from each other. But in the slum areas of Manila, the world’s most densely populated city with 42,857 people per square kilometer, that is easier said than done.

By Elijah Felice Rosales & Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz

THE country’s largest business group on Monday appealed to lawmakers to immediately pass the stimulus bill in Congress amounting to nearly P500 billion in order to encourage the private sector to resume activity and boost confidence of both investors and consumers.

In a statement, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) threw its support for the passage of the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), a multibillion-peso measure filed by economists-turned-lawmakers in the House of Representatives. The group said the bill addresses its roadmap to recovery, under which several sectors that require state aid in the Covid-19 lockdown aftermath were identified.

These sectors are: construction; agriculture, fisheries and their supply chain; micro, small and medium enterprises; and land transportation.

Farming, fisheries

Meanwhile, the PCCI asked legislators to tweak the PESA bill and increase allocation for farming and fisheries. Doing so will secure sufficient funding for loans, guarantees and grants to cover for the agriculture sector’s need for inputs, including seeds, fertilizers, crop protectants, feeds, irrigation and machinery, research and development, as well as access to markets.

PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said that “food producers have lost a significant amount of income because of barriers to logistics posted by the enhanced community quarantine,” which is implemented for close to two months now in many areas of Luzon.

“Highly perishable produce have found it difficult to move their way into markets such that they have to be thrown away,” Yujuico added. “The downstream industries such as food processing, retailing and restaurants are similarly impacted having to operate only partially, if at all.”

Aside from the initial P6 billion for agriculture and fisheries, the PCCI proposed that funding be set aside, too, for farm producers and related enterprises commensurate with the country’s need to achieve food sufficiency and security and countryside development.

It lamented that the agriculture sector has been neglected for too long and only in the time of crisis did the government understand its importance in feeding the population and reviving the economy. As such, the PCCI said that loans and grants should be made available to farmers and fishermen, as well as to downstream players like processors and packagers.

Likewise, the group demanded that the interest-free loans to be provided to MSMEs should be flexible enough to make application for the program easier.

The PCCI also called for the creation of an ecosystem that supports startups and innovation. It said the implementation of lockdown intensified the use of digital services—essentials, such as food, can be ordered via mobile apps and they will be delivered at your doorstep—showing the benefits of promoting a culture of innovation.

Last, the group asked for the rollout of subsidy for public transport stakeholders—who incurred at least two months of income losses due to the public transport ban imposed for the duration of the lockdown—to ensure they have the means to ply the roads again and service those who will return to work.

The PCCI said it appreciates the efforts of lawmakers who crafted the PESA bill. It is hoping as well that the Senate is now drafting its counterpart measure and is making moves to hasten its legislation.

Working draft

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda of Albay, also co-chairman of the House economic cluster, said the PESA is now estimated at P485 billion.

The working draft of the P485-billion PESA will include:

• P20 billion for test kits

• P130 billion for loans with Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, Small Business Corp., and Philippine Guarantee Corp.

• P25 billion for capitalization for National Development Corp.

• P150 billion for individual subsidies under the Department of Labor and Employment

• P160 billion for sectoral assistance of Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Tourism, Board of Investments, Department of Transportation.

According to Salceda, the proposed PESA will also include an enhanced Build, Build, Build program worth P650 billion in three years starting 2021. He said this enhanced BBB is expected to create 1.5 billion jobs.

Earlier, Salceda said economic point persons for the House of Representatives and the Senate and the country’s economic managers are now discussing ideas “extensively” and he sees broad consensus on how the country’s Covid-19 economic recovery plan should look.

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