Lawmakers, economic managers meet on Bayanihan 3 proposal on Thursday

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Members of the House of Representatives and the country’s economic managers will meet on Thursday to discuss anew the proposed Bayanihan 3, including the funding for the expansion of Philippine Genome Center (PGC) in Visayas and Mindanao.

Albay Rep. and House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Salceda said the lower chamber will push for the funding of the expansion of PGC during its meeting with economic managers on Thursday.

The center estimated its funding need to be an additional P100 million, which would be fully included in the Bayanihan, said the lawmaker.

The PGC is seeking P100 million to be able to conduct genome sequencing to detect coronavirus variants.

According to Salceda, the Bayanihan 3 should be passed immediately as “September and October could be the worst months” for the Philippines.

“So if we don’t get a Bayanihan 3 passed to deal with this issue, you could have no power to realign any further funds for ayuda, and very few excess resources to directly address the new variants,” he added. The Bayanihan is currently pending before the Senate.

Salceda, who is also the House economic stimulus and recovery cluster co-chairman, said that the House is committed to including the PGC funding in its renewed push for a third Bayanihan package.

“We need to find a way to pass this bill before then, so we are working with a very tight timeline,” he said.

“We are meeting with the economic managers again on Thursday to see where we can get the funding for Bayanihan 3. There is certainly some space because the lockdowns once again delayed some of our projects. So, we can take from some items,” he added.

But Salceda admitted that economic managers are still looking into what sources can be funded through Bayanihan 3.

“But we are moving forward with something. On our end in the House, we are proposing a more narrow, more focused version than the big package that we proposed earlier. I think our P170 billion tag for this is more realistic and can be funded fully,” Salceda said.

“It’s a more basic, tighter Bayanihan package that will deal with our most essential needs, including ayuda, medical assistance, cash-for-work, relief, and medical interventions, including genome sequencing. It is also more flexible, so that the Executive can mix and match the allocations as needed,” Salceda said.

Earlier this month, the PGC sought funding from the government and private sector for the expansion of its coverage to Visayas and Mindanao.

“Absolutely, we need the powers to realign, declare savings, and seek other funding sources from the 2021 budget, because we are needing more ayuda than we predicted during the budget deliberations. And the budget is quite inflexible without these powers,” Salceda said.

“The genome center is one of the cheapest but life-saving measures in the proposed Bayanihan 3, especially as different variants pose different risk levels. Tracking what the variants are and where they are is crucial. If you don’t have enough genome sequencing in Visayas and Mindanao, you are walking blindly in about half of the country,” Salceda added.

“So we need genome sequencing funding. We can’t fight Delta without it,” he said.

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