The economic stimulus bill filed in Congress includes an allocation of P20 billion for mass testing for COVID-19 in metropolitan areas, but the passage of the bill has been slow despite the urgent need for the measure.

Under the Philippine Economic Stimulus Act or Pesa, P10 billion will be allotted for mass testing this year, and another P10 billion for 2021.

In an online forum hosted earlier today by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, Marikina 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo, co-author of Pesa, said the mass testing fund was based on a “rough” estimate, based on the cost of testing 20 million Filipinos twice, using an antibody rapid test kit worth P450 each plus another P2 billion for administering the kits.

Mass testing is important because it will address the fear of being infected by asymptomatic carriers.

“This fear factor that we’re talking about is so real. The basis for that fear is the phenomenon of asymptomatic transmission,” she said during the forum.

“The reason why we have this situation is we’re not really doing mass testing. So that’s reason for why we have this provision in the Pesa bill that really calls for mass testing,” she added.
Mass testing, she clarified, does not mean testing every single Filipino, but it means testing a huge number of Filipinos to an extent that even asymptomatic carriers will also be tested.
The target of 20 million Filipinos may not be enough but Quimbo said the intent was to help businesses restart operations.

The mass testing provision is part of a broader P1.3-trillion economic package that is meant to revive an economy struck by a health crisis.

Business groups, including the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, back Pesa.
“We are grateful that our policymakers saw fit to craft a fiscal and economic stimulus program to help industries get back on their feet. We are hoping for the accelerated passage of the bill with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” said PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico on Tuesday.

Quimbo did not give a timeline for the passage of the bill, although she said lawmakers need to act on it quickly.

“When exactly? I wish I knew. I don’t have a crystal ball. But then our recess [in Congress] is on June 4. We really need to act on it quickly. But of course, there are other issues that Congress has to deal with, like for example, the ABS-CBN franchise,” she said.

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