House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday proposed to convert the administration’s Build, Build, Build initiative into a Build Back Better program, which will focus on infrastructure program responsive to the “new normal” requirements of the health, education, agriculture, local roads and livelihood, information technology and tourism sectors.
Cayetano is pushing for the “Build Back Better” initiative in an effort to strengthen government mitigation and recovery efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He cited the need to prioritize infrastructure projects that will create more job opportunities amid these challenging times and help the people adapt, innovate, and manage the new normal. “It is not enough to say we will rebuild our lives, but we need to strive on how we can build back better,” Cayetano said.
Last month, the National Economic and Development Authority released a report called “We Recover as One,” which outlined several policy and priority measures, which seek to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and enable the economy to recover and transition to the new normal. The said report was prepared by the Inter-Agency Task Force-Technical Working Group (IATF-TWG) for Anticipatory and Forward Planning headed by the NEDA.
Under the said report, NEDA recommended that the national government agencies should realign expenditure priorities in 2020 and 2021 and revisit the list of Build, Build, Build projects to give priority to crucial and shovel-ready projects, provide more space for relevant health-related expenditures, and improve the country’s digital infrastructure.
“Budget reprioritization may be needed to fund the programs, activities, and projects (PAPs) that are recommended to be implemented in 2020. PAPs that are to be implemented in 2021 will need to be included in the 2021 National Expenditure Program,” the TWG report said.
Cayetano also underscored the need to modernize the Department of Social Welfare and Development food repacking centers to produce more relief goods at any given time. With innovation and automation, he pointed out that government can be more responsive during disasters. He said he would also push for the strengthening of digital infrastructure to make internet connectivity more accessible and affordable small entrepreneurs moving towards e-commerce and students engaged in online learning.
“Congress has always stood that we want jobs, not dole outs. Dole outs have their purpose. During times like this, na hindi lahat pwede magtrabaho, ‘yung ayuda o ‘yung tulong, mayroon pong purpose ‘yan, but we prefer jobs,” Cayetano said.
The TWG report also cited the need to ensure funding for the construction and enhancement of logistics and road infrastructure, such as road and transport projects under the Build, Build, Build program, wholesale food terminals and trading centers, warehouses, cold storage, mobile storage, and cold chain and refrigeration facilities.
Before the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress ended last June, House Bill 6920 or the proposed COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act of 2020 was passed on third reading at the House and was transmitted to the Senate.
The bill, primarily authored by Cayetano, provides for a P1.5-trillion fund to be divided in period of three years. The said measure seeks to fund projects under the HEAL IT sector will be prioritized for funding, which include: health, education, agriculture, local roads, infrastructure, livelihood, information and communication technology, and tourism.
“We hope to create sustainable jobs that will provide employment and promote inclusive growth, especially in the rural areas affected by the pandemic,” he said.
The proposed CURES Act of 2020 shall also be undertaken to support government efforts to decongest population in Metro Manila while the immediate funding of CURES projects shall target the infrastructure building at the barangay level in areas of HEAL IT: Health - for the construction or improvement of barangay municipal health centers; Education – for the expansion of school buildings to decongest classrooms and technical vocational learning centers and for the establishment of digital education in the public educational system; Agriculture – for the construction, repair, or improvement of municipal and provincial fish ports and trading centers; Local roads and Livelihood – for the construction or expansion of farm-to-market roads; Information Technology and Connectivity – for the establishment of research and information centers with digital platforms for public use and training; and Tourism – for programs, projects, and activities to boost domestic tourism when travel permits post-COVID-19.
The measure aims to refocus government interventions toward the HEAL IT sectors, the CURES Act of 2020 will rectify inequities in critical infrastructure funding and help provide opportunities of reintegration for returning overseas workers.