‘Bangko sa Baryo’ bill seen to help inclusion

FOUR Camarines Sur lawmakers made a stronger push for the prompt congressional approval of a measure they believe would enable roughly 10 million to 34 million unbanked Filipinos—many in faraway barrios without any banking presence—to finally open their own bank accounts.

National Unity Party (NUP) President Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, one of the four authors of House Bill (HB) 273 or the “Bangko sa Baryo Act,” said last Sunday “the swift legislative approval of this measure would go a long way for the 19th Congress to achieve the “lofty, complementary goals of bridging the country’s digital divide and attaining financial inclusion for all Filipinos.”

According to Villafuerte, the glaring “disconnect” in the use of digital financial service in the country is “borne out by the reality that despite the dramatic increase in online or e-payments, particularly in the last two years under the Covid-19 pandemic, an estimated low of almost 10 million to a high of over 34 million Filipinos have no bank accounts yet, apparently because of our leave-much-to-be-desired digital infrastructure coupled with the dearth of banks, especially in remote barrios across the country.”

“It is imperative for us legislators to address this digital disconnect by passing HB 273 in the House and a counterpart bill in the Senate to establish soon enough a banking presence all over the country,” Villafuerte said. The lawmaker said doing so would government’s digital transformation and financial inclusion goals and the Digital Payments Transformation Roadmap (DPTR) of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

The lawmaker added doing so would also assist the BSP achieve its National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI) target of onboarding at least 70 percent of adult Filipinos to the formal financial system by 2023.

Complementary

FOR Villafuerte, pursuing financial inclusion and digitalization are complementary in nature, as the BSP said in its DGTB 2020-2023 targets that these two goals are “mutually reinforcing” and “go hand-in-hand, each enabling the other.”

A bank or transaction account is a basic indicator of financial inclusion and is the most basic tool for making digital transactions, according to the BSP.

Co-authored by Rep. Miguel Luis R. Villafuerte, Rep. Tsuyoshi Anthony G. Horibata and Bicol Saro Rep. Nicolas C. Enciso VIII, HB 273 seeks to authorize the  BSP to accredit cash agents with good reputation and credit history to set up shops in retail outlets such as convenience stores, pharmacies and other highly accessible places, and serve as “last mile’ providers of financial services in faraway places with zero bank presence.

“This proposed ‘Bangko sa Baryo Act’ endeavors to attain financial inclusion for the Filipino people and to establish robust financial consumer protection frameworks,” the HB 273 text read. “It shall increase citizen’s financial literacy and capability so they can understand different financial services. It is hoped that, soon, an average barrio folk will be able to make sound financial decisions and put his or her hard-earned money to beneficial use,” the bill added.  

EO 170

TO pursue digital empowerment, Villafuerte recalled that then-President Duterte issued Executive Order (EO) 170—“Adoption of Digital Payments for Government Disbursements and Collections”—last May 12. The order directed all national government agencies, local government units, state universities and colleges and government-owned or -controlled corporations to tap digital platforms in disbursing and collecting official payments.

To implement EO 170, government agencies led by the Department of Finance last week issued its draft implementing rules and regulations mandating all these covered government agencies to implement digital disbursements in six months’ time and online collections within one to three years, depending on each agency’s operational readiness and capability to do so.

In his first State of the Nation Address and his budget message to legislators for his proposed P5.268-trillion General Appropriations Act (GAA) for 2023, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has stressed that digital migration and financial inclusion remain government priorities on his watch.

With digitalization a top priority of his Administration, the President said in his first budget message last August 22 to Congress that his 2023 GAA plan includes a P12.1-billion investment in Information and Communications Technology infrastructure and skills development “to accelerate our digital transformation.”

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