BATANGAS CITY – This capital city of CALABARZON region’s southernmost province was the venue of a historic event last week: the first out-of-town plenary session of the country’s legislature.
More than 200 Congressmen trooped to the Batangas City Convention Center for the House of Representatives’ special session on the humanitarian crisis stemming from the Jan. 12 eruption of Taal Volcano. They represent two-thirds of the lower legislative chamber, which had never held plenaries outside the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City and the old Congress building in Manila until then.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the lawmakers wanted to hear directly from the first responders and evacuees about what needs to be done to assist the victims who fled their homes and sought refuge in evacuation centers scattered across Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and Quezon provinces.
Pundits were livid over this move because they thought that holding the session in Batangas was done merely to score “pogi” points with the public. But what’s wrong with that when it meant delivering results?
Indeed, the House was able to adopt two vital resolutions during the out-of-town session: HR 655 urging the immediate release of funds for communities adversely affected by the eruption; and HR 662 expressing support and commitment to work with all concerned government agencies to pass the proposed supplemental budget that would expedite assistance to the calamity victims.
Issues raised at the special plenary would serve as inputs of the House committee on disaster management under Leyte Representative Lucy Torres-Gomez, who was directed by Cayetano to oversee the crafting of a long-term rehabilitation plan for the Taal-affected communities in coordination with other relevant committees. The chamber is also seeking the cooperation and expertise of both the public and private sectors in developing the rehab plan.
With its vast network of 300 representatives and their constituents, the House can easily mobilize government agencies involved in the reconstruction of areas damaged by the sudden volcanic eruption. Although state seismologists have reduced the alert level by a notch, the people of Batangas and Cavite are still living under a state of calamity.
Cayetano assured full congressional support to President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for a P30 billion supplemental budget to augment the reconstruction funds for Taal’s surrounding communities. Obviously, the existing P16 billion national disaster risk reduction budget is not enough because around P8.5 billion has already been allocated for the rehab of Marawi City and earthquake-devastated areas in Mindanao.
Evacuees, local government officials, and legislative representatives of Batangas were thankful that the House members held their plenary session here and listened to the ones whose homes were destroyed, towns were abandoned, and livelihoods were affected by the disaster.
Representatives Elenita Buhain, Raneo Abu, Theresa Collantes, Lianda Bolilia, Mario Marino, and Vilma Recto of Batangas’ six congressional districts were among those who filed the pertinent resolutions during the off-site plenary session.
Over the weekend, Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas announced that residents of all municipalities under lockdown – except Agoncillo and Laurel – have the option to return to their residences and workplaces.
However, he urged returning residents to be constantly alert and vigilant since it is possible that Taal Volcano may still erupt in the coming weeks or months. Clearly, they’re not out of the woods yet and would need all the assistance from fellow Filipinos in this time of crisis.