By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Congressmen should not have adopted the Senate’s version of the proposed “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” if they had reservations about it.
Senate President Vicente III said this Tuesday as he expressed confusion over the statements made by members of the House of Representatives, including its leader, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who took a swipe at senators for their amendments to the bill and specifying the authority to be granted to President Duterte.
The bill, if signed into law, would give Duterte special powers allowing him to solve the coronavirus pandemic in an expedited manner “for a limited period and subject to restrictions.”
But Cayetano, in the House’s special session Monday, blamed the Senate for slowing down the passage of the proposed law.
He also accused the senators of grandstanding.
“If we wanted the publicity, kinatay natin ‘tong bill na ‘to and every single advocacy ise-spell out natin hanggang sa maging singkapal na ng phone book (we could’ve mangled this bill and spelled out every single advocacy until we had something as thick as a phone book),” Cayetano said in his speech.
“If the Senate did it semi-that way, it’s up to them. But tayo po, simple eh (we made it simple),” he added.
Sought for comment, Sotto told reporters: “I do not understand how they can say that.”
He said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra, and Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo were with them and were even supportive of their amendments during the 17-hour session which started past 10 a.m. on Monday (March 23).
“[The Cabinet officials] participated in some discussions and heard all the amendments. They never said we did anything of the sort, and in fact lauded our version,” he said.
“They should not have adopted it,” he said of the House members.
Sotto also countered Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor who also made unsolicited comments against the senators in stressing the urgency of the health crisis.
“Sino naman may [sabing] emergency powers ang pinapasa namin (Who said we were passing an ’emergency powers’ bill)? There is an emergency situation and we gave presidential authority to handle it. Wrong notion!” Sotto said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who acted as Majority Leader during the Senate’s special session, also echoed Sotto, saying Palace officials were consulted on the amendments that senators had pushed for the bill.
“The executive team made sure the [amendments] will not dilute the essences of the bill but instead, strengthen powers given to the President. It was a team effort from both the legislature and the executive in making sure that we have a bill that will truly help our people,” Gatchalian said in a text message.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto rather gave a short, but direct response to the congressmen’s statements.
“They approved it for the President to sign. End of story,” Recto said in a separate message.
While they support the need for a grant of additional powers to Duterte to immediately address the pandemic, senators on Monday made sure that programs are specified in the bill to ensure that the needs of health workers, displaced workers, and poor families affected by the crisis will be addressed, without having to violate the Constitution.
Among the amendments they inserted in the bill were the subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 for 18 million low-income families; the COVID-19 Special Risk Allowance for public health workers; the P100,000 and P1-million compensation for public and private health workers who were infected or died due to COVID-19 in line of their duty; and the mandated health insurance to all health workers who contracted the disease.
Senators also limited the authority to be given to Duterte on the realignment and use of government funds — to apply only to savings in the executive branch — to programs and agencies responding to the health crisis.
Senate Bill No. 1418 adopted by the Lower Chamber was sponsored by Cayetano’s older sister, Sen. Pia Cayetano, as an author and one of the vice chairs of the Senate finance committee.
She has yet to comment on the House Speaker’s remarks as of writing.