Ways which are crucial to socio-economic recovery from the pandemic have been identified following an online stimulus forum with essential agencies organized by Rep. Edgar Chatto.
The First District congressman who is a former governor believed national policy makers must always get in touch with the local leaders and communities in counter parting interventions.
By this, multi-sectoral concerns are covered widely, especially those which pertain to economic resiliency towards recovery under the new normal, the solon said.
Chatto engaged in the zoom conference, a four-hour learning session on economic stimulus for business continuity and recovery, with Gov. Arthur Yap, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Sec. Ramon Lopez, Department of Tourism (DOT) Sec. Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo last Sunday.
Angara and Quimbo are authors of the counterpart economic stimulus bills in the Senate and House of Representatives, with the latter already passing its version on third and final reading.
Yap maintained his priorities for food production and security and aggressive positioning of Bohol for manufacturing and processing relocation of investments from industries in Cebu and even China.
He has been working on economic zone establishment, preferably along the province’s northwestern corridor, with the DTI through Boholana Asec. Asteria Caberte.
But in moving forward, also towards tourism reopening, the governor pointed out that ” we have to cross two critical thresholds.”
One is to convince the visitors that it is safe to come to Bohol” and the other to assure the people of Bohol that it is safe to welcome and accept visitors,” Yap said.
A former congressional tourism committee chairman, Chatto said tourism should be maintained as one of the economic pillars, adding that many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) revolve around the industry.
Lopez admitted DTI’s role to mitigate the otherwise deepening impact of the pandemic on businesses, which reopening has to emphasize safety.
To bring back business confidence, the DTI recommended, among others, the creation of a high-level task force, repurposing of manufacturing to essential products like personal protective equipment, ventilators and masks, acceleration of local production, patronizing and promoting local products, and helping MSMEs through financing.
Angara said both the Senate and Lower House heavily consulted on economic stimulus package and other COVID-19-related legislations.
This is to ensure budget allocations for employment, MSMEs through support from government financing institutions, agriculture, health, tourism, transportation, education, etc.
Other recommendations include the support to OFWs, entrepreneurship training and counselling and business modeling, reskilling of workers, and alternative work arrangements.
Further, industry competitiveness will be improved, digital economy maximized, food security ensured, and tax reforms bettered.
Quimbo higlighted her P1.3 trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for Economy (ARISE) Bill or House Bill 6815 which the Lower House already approved and is now in the Senate.
Among the measure’s key features are subsidy for COVID-testing to revive confidence among workers, business owners and consumers and wage subsidy for two months under the condition of labor retention.
It also provides for credit mediation, use of digital platforms, focus on critical impact sectors, technical assistance grants through the DTI, better connectivity infrastructure, better roads, and better health systems.
The ARISE has interventions costing P708 billion which are, among others, transitional for urgent relief through wage subsidies and cash for work, and regulatory for interest-free loans and credit guarantees.
It also provides for structural intervention to enhance the Build, Build, Build Program, and sectoral relief intervention for tourism, globally-oriented manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture.
To the Boholanos, all these could mean mass testing capacity, wage subsidies (including to the transport sector), cash-for-work programs, and assistance to the OFW, agri-fishery and tourism sectors.
Quimbo cautioned that if the proposed legislation is not passed, unemployment will worsen and closure of business get widespread.
The congresswoman underscored the essence of the forum arranged by Chatto with Yap joining as leaders who know do seek ways to expand their learning for better command in pandemic and other crises.
“We need to have a more local response to COVID-19. The national government is finding it hard to address in a centralized mannner,” Quimbo said.
Puyat said her agency formulated a response and recovery plan that includes subsidy programs and moratorium on accreditation fees.
Under the ARISE, tourism is given P85 billion to fund credit facilities, tourism system improvement through digital solutions, and other programs.
Restarting domestic tourism should be careful and in phases, with limited capacity still following health protocols, the tourism secretary said.
The DOT certificate of authority to operate is free of charge, but only 21 accommodation establishments have so far been accredited in Bohol.
The DOT designed safe passes to facilitate cashless and contact-less transactions.
Puyat said the Bureau of Investments is now allowing tourism establishments to “COVID-proof” their facilities and giving them investment incentives.
The governor thanked the DOT for its “TouRIST” (Resilient Industry and Sustainable Tourism) Program.
The governor raised the difference in the amounts proposed under the ARISE Bill and by the national economic managers, who quoted a far low fund requirement.
For one, Quimbo said, it could be because of the uncertainty that when COVID-19 ends, will there be additional waves.
Second, there is a need to look into off-budget financing sources.
But Quimbo emphasized there are always ways of managing the budget.
ARISE fund sources include savings from foreign travels and loans and bonds as the country has a good credit standing when it comes to borrowing.
Yap asked of any way to mobilize local spending with the national government, raised issues on fiscal incentives and bond rotation, and expressed worry if “we fail to bridge the gap.”
Many rest on the decision of the national economic managers and it is about time to shift to the local government, Quimbo said.
Quimbo cited an ARISE provision to help local government units seek financial sources.
Both Quimbo and the DTI secretary cited the problem of data in raising or rationalizing fiscal incentives.
Lopez said it is, for now, hard to compute due to the transition that is ongoing and other factors, adding that, revenue-wise, it will be lowered first before it goes up.
Yap likewise raised the concern on agriculture where money is more on production while there is a need to look into risk mitigation and farm insurance.
Further, the governor said banks should be allowed to restructure loans if businesses have to recover and the MSMEs be given genuine consideration.
Lopez fully supported the liberalization efforts to open up more investments and sectors.
For Quimbo, the government needs to spend more since there is a disproportionate reliance on loans and credits emphasized by the fear to borrow and fear to lend out.
The DTI can assist in processing loans and facilitate direct assistance to those who wish to avail of loans as there are many venues.
These include fund for loans from the DOT for tourism businesses which are related to restaurant functions, Lopez said.
In the open forum of the learning session, educational subsidy and connectivity and support to private school too added discussion
Inasmuch as many private schools are considered MSMEs, there are proposed interventions for them, Quimbo said.
Chatto said private schools can avail of support under the ARISE Bill while he also supported the proposal to impart the Special Educaion Fund (SEF) to the said subsector of the academe.
He co-authors the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Bill which focuses on infrastructure—and education is given focus in terms of school facilities.
Chatto amended it to include digital infrastructure.
The congressman organized the online important economic stimulus session together with the USAID-SURGE Project, through Tagbilaran CIty Coordinator, Linda Paredes and Philippine Program Manager John Avila, provincial government of Bohol, and Tagbilaran City government under Mayor John Gessnell Yap II.
“No one was prepared for this pandemic. Now that the world seems easing down on quarantines, this learning session is an important exchange of information between the national and local executive and legislative officials to ensure effective responses long into the new normal,” Chatto said. (Ven rebo Arigo)