THE leadership of the House of Representatives late Monday slammed senators for taking too long to pass the Palace-backed bill granting President Duterte standby powers to address the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic despite the urgency to have the measure enacted.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said there was no need to be overly meticulous as to itemize proposed expenditures in the proposal.
“If the Senate did it that way (introduced many amendments to the bill), that’s up to them. But we kept it simple here. The national government asked for flexibility. They told us the plan. The plan is community quarantine. The plan is to keep people in their homes. The plan is to set up and support the present health system and to grow it. The plan is to get supply in and the plan is to give the money (to poor families),” Cayetano told the plenary.
The Speaker made the statement after the House approved in a special session House Bill No. 6616, its version of the proposed “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.” The bill was approved by the House on final reading at around 11:45 p.m. last Monday.
Congressmen waited for the senators to approve the measure until past 3 a.m. before it was able to adjourn session.
The House adopted the Senate version of the bill to forego the need for congressmen and senators to iron out differing provisions in the bicameral level and expedite its enactment.
“If we wanted publicity, we would have taken this bill apart and spelled out every single advocacy until it becomes as thick as a phone book,” Cayetano said as he scored senators and critics for introducing many amendments to the bill.
Cayetano insisted it was impossible for the House to itemize every expenditure that will be funded by the executive under the bill because of complicated details related to the measure’s provisions.
Cayetano particularly lambasted a senator, who he did not name, for demanding food and medicine for frontliners in hospitals while voting against the measure.
“Imagine a senator of the Republic saying, ‘We need medicine. We need to help the frontliners. We need provisions of food, but we don’t need the special powers or emergency powers.’ E sa’n mo kukunin ang pera? (Where will you get the money?),” he said.
The bill gives President a free hand to re-align and re-allocate the funds under the 2020 General Appropriations Act on top of some P275 billion budget that will be spent for poor families and for the needs of the health sector such as masks, testing kits and personnel protective equipment.
o said the executive and the legislative had no choice but to give the President such power to re-align funds because “when we (Congress) made this (2020) budget and we did it in record time, no one knew that there will be a COVID-19.”
“Yes, there have been people like Bill Gates who’ve been warning us for the last years that a pandemic is coming but, like the rest of the world, who was prepared for this? But the President acted. And more people will die unless we all understand why,” he said.
Anakalusuguan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor, chair of the committee on public accounts, said the measure would have been approved earlier Monday had congressmen not waited for the Senate.
He said the bill which grants the President emergency powers was needed precisely because there is an “emergency.”
If what was being discussed on the floor was the annual national budget, Defensor said Congress “would have had the luxury of time to debate and be meticulous.”
“Sa Senate ano pinag-usapan? Special allowance for health workers para may hazard. Ni-limit nila magkano, P100,000 kung namatay, P1 million kung mas malaki kailangan. Bakit nililimita, bakit ‘di natin ibigay sa pangulo. Why would we limit it? (What are they discussing in the Senate? Special allowance for health workers to give them hazard pay. They limited it to P100,000 in case of death and P1 million if the need is a lot more. Why limit it? Why don’t we give the President a freehand?),” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III shot back at Defensor and said his statement was uncalled for.
Sotto said Defensor apparently forgot that the main purpose of the special session was to give the President authority to realign funds to fight COVID-19, not to give him emergency powers.
“The special session was called so the President can address the funding for 18 million Filipino families. We (senators) pushed for the special session, that’s why the Senate version of the measure (SBN 1418) contained all what has been discussed in Malacanang (last Saturday),” Sotto said,
During the weekend meeting with the executive, Sotto stood firm that “there was no discussion about giving the President emergency powers.” “In fact during the meeting, I told them not to use the term emergency powers because the people do not like it,” he added.
Because there is an emergency situation, we are giving the president authority, some financial powers. Because there is an emergency situation, we are giving the president authority, some financial powers because we want to address the financial aspect of the problem because a lot of our countrymen in the informal sector have no other source of income,” he said.
He said had the President wanted emergency powers, the members of the Cabinet who were present in the Senate during its special session should have expressed their objections.
He said Defensor was misled.
“They are looking for the emergency powers. But who ever said that we are going to pass a bill to give the President emergency powers? On Day 1 of the meeting, I told them that emergency powers was not on our agenda. There is an emergency situation, let’s give the President authority to handle the situation financially, give him necessary powers to handle it, so to speak. That’s what is needed. But if you say we will give emergency powers, that’s a different story,” he added.
Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said: “They (congressmen) approved it for the President to sign. End of the story.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he does not know where Defensor’s criticisms came from.
“But they adopted the Senate version, right? The Cabinet members who joined us in our caucus all the way to approval of the bill on final reading went home tired and sleepy but satisfied and very grateful,” Lacson said. – With Raymond Africa