By Ben Rosario
As leaders of Congress agreed to hold a special session on Monday, serious questions about reaching a quorum have been aired by various sectors.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte-Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said a quorum has to be constituted on Monday notwithstanding the fact that the whole of Luzon has been placed on lockdown.
“We must try or many will suffer,” warned Salceda, whose still unnumbered legislative proposal is expected to be part of the important legislative discussion during the special session.
The bill seeks to authorize President Duterte to “full mobilize the 2019 and 2020 budgets for coronavirus response and recovery efforts.”
A P300 billion supplemental budget is being contemplated as the Special Coronavirus Response Fund to finance measures “as may be necessary to contain the public health emergency as declared in Proclamation No. 929, and to control its impacts on public health, general welfare, and the socio-economic well-being of the country.”
Malacanang is expected to submit its own supplemental budget proposal which is estimated at over P200 million.
The House committee on appropriations has already endorsed approval of a P1.6 billion supplemental budget before Congress went on Lenten break last March 14.
Legislative sources said the endorsed supplemental budget is expected to be amended, but the legality of such a move may be put in question.
Earlier, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano declared that the Lower House will be ready to respond to President Duterte’s call for special session.
He also said the chamber will observe strict social distancing protocols during the session.
Among government offices, the Lower House absorbed the most serious COVID-19 cases, with two of its employees succumbing to the dangerous disease.
A party-list congressman and another House staffer have also tested positive for COVID-19.
Salceda said House members are being called to carry out “extraordinary actions” as the country is facing its most serious health threat in history.
Also the vice chairman of the House committee on appropriations, Salceda said the President “must not be restrained in his response by the provisions that we have made for ordinary times.”
“This is a matter of national survival. Every day counts here – whether in keeping infections low, or in keeping public order and safety,” he declared.
Salceda added: “Make no mistake. This could become the darkest hour in our country’s recent economic history. But if we get this right, we will come out of this stronger and we can rebuild better.”
However, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman raised doubts that there is a need for Congress to hold a special session in trying to “defeat or subdue” the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus and treating the infected patients are within the realm of medical science; in the domain of public health authorities and medical professionals; and under the jurisdiction of the Executive,” said the independent lawmaker.
He pointed out that additional funding in the anti-COVID fight no longer requires a special session because the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) has adequate funds, for the time being, to address the health crisis without prior congressional authorization.
“When the Congress resumes sessions starting on May 4, 2020, a well-studied and fully-deliberated supplemental budget to fund an economic stimulus to assist affected citizens, workers and businesses can be enacted together with necessary replenishments of disbursed funds from the GAA to respond to the crisis,” Lagman said.