Senators back Marcos plan for business relief package

SENATORS have expressed support for a plan by President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., to legislate a relief package for businesses affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This measure is badly needed to jump-start our economic recovery,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri told reporters in a Viber message.

At a news conference at his headquarters on Monday, Mr. Marcos said he will look at the 2023 national budget, which is still being prepared, to “find sufficient funds” for the proposed package.

He said he plans to “move some public expenditure away from non-investment expenditures to more investment expenditures” to “revitalize the economy.”

Mr. Zubiri noted that his campaign promise was to pass the Bayanihan III stimulus package to support distressed industries such as tourism and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which are aligned with Mr. Marcos’ plans.

Mr. Zubiri, a candidate to become Senate President in the 19th Congress, said he will support such a relief bill.

Incoming Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero said such a package “is exactly what we need, especially for MSMEs and the agriculture sector.”

“Election spending spurred and increased our GDP (gross domestic product) and must be sustained in order to spur the economy further and create needed stable jobs,” he added.

Aside from borrowing, Mr. Escudero said other sources of funds could be the sale of government assets; improving tax collection efficiency; successful curbs on corruption; and the proper allocation of budget resources.

When Mr. Marcos was asked on Monday whether he would consider selling government assets to fund the stimulus package, he said: “I’m always very wary of selling government assets, so as a matter of principle I would rather not.”

Economists have said the next administration should outline a clear pandemic recovery plan and assess the status of public finances to make any stimulus package more responsive to emerging needs.

Senator Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III said details of how to fund the proposed stimulus must be firmed up to ensure success. “The general ideas are good, but we have to look at the details.”

“I look forward to working with like-minded and development or reform-oriented people in government, regardless of affiliation or color they may have had or carried in the last elections, and call on our people to do the same,” Mr. Escudero said. “Our country and people deserve nothing less.”

Incoming Senator Lorna Regina B. Legarda also expressed support for the Marcos stimulus package, promising to help find adequate funding in the legislative process.

“I will ensure that MSME programs of various government agencies will be effectively implemented,” she said. “I will support the economic empowerment of every Filipino family.”

The national expenditure program will be thoroughly studied, she added, to align it with the imperatives of pandemic recovery.

House Deputy Speaker and Davao City Rep. Isidro T. Ungab said the Marcos plan to expedite the passage of the 2023 budget signals his support for economic recovery.

Chances are slim that the 2022 budget can be tapped to fund the proposed stimulus, he said in a statement on Wednesday. However, Mr. Ungab said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) can help identify any unused appropriations or possible savings to support the planned stimulus.

He said he is awaiting the incoming administration’s blueprint for recovery. “This roadmap may take into consideration the proposed stimulus package so that the necessary funding will already be included in the investment-led expenditure.”

The Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for 2023 to 2028 should also be updated, he said, since it will lay the groundwork for budgeting in the coming years. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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