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Senators prioritize aid to vulnerable sectors over business subsidies

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators are more inclined to prioritize assistance for the impoverished sectors of society before granting the subsidies asked by businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday, May 12, said she personally believes that daily-wage earners and vulnerable members of society should be first in line in the government’s assistance programs.

“Yes, if you ask me personally, you have to help first the weakest members of society. Although businesses are important because they provide jobs, the weakest links are the daily wage earners, and a lot of them are the ones affected by the [lockdown],” Poe said in an online meeting with reporters.

Poe was asked about the P8.6-billion monthly subsidy requested by airline companies when the Senate committee on public services was tackling yesterday (May 11) the protocols for the resumption of public transportation in areas with eased quarantine rules.

The committee chair admitted she was “quite surprised and a little bit disappointed” with the presentation of Air Carriers Association of the Philippines (ACAP) vice president Robert Lim, who told senators that the airline industry is suffering a $5-billion (P250 billion) loss because of the travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

According to Lim, the government’s plan to allow flights at 50 percent capacity “would not be economically viable for the airlines.”

Lim said he aviation sector would need P8.6 billion in subsidy per month to sustain its operations and employees. This would include: P6.8 billion for working capital; P1.3 billion for wage subsidies; and P500 million for paying navigational charges, landing and take-off fees.

“Of course, they had to assert what will help them, their needs, but they didn’t talk much about the safety measures that they were going to take on their own, they just said they were following international regulations…It seems like there was a lack of concern for the passengers as opposed to the presentation they had for the bailing out that they need, the lack of revenue,” Poe said.

“That’s understandable, people will be affected, a lot of jobs will also be affected. But that was lacking, I thought,” she opined.

Poe, on the other hand, noted the plight of public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and operators who have yet to receive from the government their emergency subsidies as mandated under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. She has repeatedly appealed for sustained assistance for the informal sector workers.

“Imagine kung hihingi ng bail out na P4 billion, eh ang dami ngang drivers na di pa nakakatanggap ng ayuda. Kahit sino masasaktan,” she said.

Senator Francis Tolentino, who also attended Monday’s hearing, said that “Given the very limited resources of the government, we should prioritize the basic needs of the people which includes agriculture, education and the informal labor sector.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson also agreed that the request of the airline companies may have to wait considering the available resources.

“I would rather prioritize (those living from) ‘hand-to-mouth’ who are forced to lose their income, many of whom are without savings but who need to feed their families. Big businesses like airline companies should belong to the second or third level of priority and much would depend on the availability of resources,” Lacson opined.

Finance commitee chair Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said the ACAP’s appeal “needs to be taken in conjunction with other industries and the overall stimulus.”

“We want as much as possible to help people keep their jobs,” he said.

For her part, Poe proposed to the government to consider waiving some of the fees being collected from the airline companies to ease their burden.

“We need to see a comprehensive proposal to ensure that any lifeline will be used directly to prop up the industry. We trust that any aid given to the airline industry will primarily support the Filipino workers and ensure that they remain employed as we get through this crisis,” she said in a separate message.

The Senate, she said, will do its part in scrutinizing the budget to look for ways to provide economic relief to sectors and industries most affected by the COVID-19.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/05/13/senators-prioritize-aid-to-vulnerable-sectors-over-business-subsidies/)

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