By Mario Casayuran
Senate leaders have agreed to reset a scheduled special session and, instead, discuss first with the House of Representatives leadership and Malacanang relevant issues and details of the proposed supplemental budget to finance the government’s fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The meeting will take place at Malacanang at 2 p.m. today, Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘’Bong’’ Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, said.
Go said Senate and House leaders have deferred an earlier decision to meet separately in special session at 2 p.m. today (March 21) to give way to a meeting called by the Executive Branch.
Go said that during their discussion with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, House Speaker Alan S.Cayetano, and Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado, the Legislative Branch said that It is ready to pass a bill to realign funds in order to help government address the COVID-19 crisis.
The Executive Branch, however, would like to set a meeting first to discuss these measures further.
‘’Hence, we will have a meeting (today, March 21) with leaders of both Houses of Congress and concerned cabinet secretaries on how to empower further and give the government the flexibility it needs to address the present crisis,’’ Go explained
‘’I was informed earlier by the Senate President that we are ready to hold the Special Session today at 2 p.m. The House of Representatives, through Speaker Alan Cayetano, confirmed that they are ready as well,’’ he added.
Go, a former Special Assistant to President Duterte, also mentioned that the Office of the President would transmit to the legislators the proposed budget being requested, the proposed powers and authority needed for it to be utilized efficiently by the agencies, and other proposals, particularly for granting additional food and cash assistance to affected Filipinos, especially those belonging to the vulnerable sectors.
According to the Office of the President, the Presidential Proclamation to be released will call for a Special Session anytime from March 21 to 23. However, the Legislative branch will try to finish it today given the urgency of the situation.
“As a legislator, I am ready to attend. Both Houses of Congress should make sure that proper safeguards will be in place in the conduct of the Special Session in compliance with the President’s orders to exercise social distancing measures. The government as a whole shall continue to do its job in a manner that will not put the health of others at risk,’’ he stressed.
Sotto had said he and Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chairwoman of the Senate ways and means committee, would attend the meeting.
He also said he would inform Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon the highlights of the scheduled meeting with Cayetano and the Executive branch.