No need for Congress to hold special session for COVID-19 – Lagman

Published March 17, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Ben Rosario

Independent Rep. Edcel Lagman on Tuesday downplayed the need for Congress to hold a special session to approve the P1.6 billion supplemental budget in additional financial backing to the fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman (FEDERICO CRUZ / MANILA BULLETIN)
Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman

Lagman, former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, said there is enough money for government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

He cited the sources of the COVID 19 financial support as the President’s Contingent Fund and the traditional Calamity Fund. The said funding sources are available and need no legislative authorization to be accessed.

Instead of holding special session that might be adverse in the President’s lockdown directive for the whole of Luzon, Lagman said Congress can act on legislative measures for COVID-19 funding when regular session resumes on May 4.

“When the Congress resumes on May 4, 2020 after the Lenten break, a supplemental budget can be enacted to replenish the amounts disbursed from the Contingent Fund and the NDRRMF (National Disaster Relief and Risk Management Fund),” said Lagman.

He added that “appropriate fresh funds required to further respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, like economic assistance to affected citizens, workers and small businesses when the adverse impact of the novel coronavirus can better be assessed” during regular sessions.

The Albay lawmaker said that as provided for in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), the Contingent Fund of P13 billion “shall cover the funding requirements of new or urgent projects and activities of national government agencies and GOCCs that need to be implemented or paid during the year”.

“Preventing the spread of COVID-19 and the treatment of infected patients fall within the purview of the Contingent Fund,” said Lagman.

Earlier, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano assured the national government that the Lower House is ready to hold special sessions to act on the P1.6 billion additional funding for anti-COVID 19 programs.

However, with nearly half of the Senate membership now under self-imposed quarantine and with the confirmation that Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri has tested positive for the dreaded disease, there is no assurance senators will be prepared to hold special sessions.

Lagman said an additional source is the P16 billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF), formerly known as the Calamity Fund, for “aid, relief and rehabilitation services to communities/areas affected by human-induced and natural calamities”, which verily covers the calamitous COVID-19.

“The utilization of both the Contingent Fund and NDRRMF needs the President’s prior approval,” he explained.