By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Risa Hontiveros said she is alarmed by the potential abuse and lack of accountability that the recently signed law that grants additional powers to President Duterte to address the COVID-19 crisis would bring once it is enforced.
Hontiveros said this as she defends her decision to vote “no” to the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” which Congress eventually passed during the Special Session on Monday, which lasted through the night.
Twelve senators who were physically present said “yes” to the bill. According to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, seven (7) other senators who were unable to attend the Special Session due to self-quarantine signified their support to the measure teleconferencing. Only Hontiveros, who was also on self-quarantine, voted against the measure also through teleconferencing.
“I voted ‘no’ to the grant of additional powers to Malacanang because it grants the President unchecked powers that are open to abuse and corruption,” Hontiveros said.
“It also grants the President a virtual blank check with no clear plan nor strategy to defeat COVID-19. Paano natin masisigurado na mapupunta ang pondo sa taumbayan? (How can we make sure that the funds will go directly to the people?)” the opposition senator said.
Hontiveros said she is very alarmed by the potential for abuse and lack of accountability in giving the President near-absolute control over public funds in national government agencies and even government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).
She said the President’s new powers would authorize him to now stop altogether important government projects and divert their funding to other uses, with little check and balances in place.
The senator said there is also no specific guarantee that the funds would go to the public as part of the government’s efforts to curb the rise of the COVID-19 cases in the country, nor any assurance that the money would not be distributed to companies and businesses that are close to the Duterte administration.
“We cannot and should not blindly trust the use of these important funds to a government, which during this health crisis, has chosen to spend P14-billion on tourism projects, but has been unable to immediately and sufficiently deliver personal protective equipment (PPEs) to our doctors, health workers, law enforcement agents and other frontliners,” she stressed.
Hontiveros reiterated that the Executive Branch does not need special powers for it to act urgently and decisively in meeting the immediate needs of the people amid the COVID-19 outbreak, saying there are sufficient laws in the country that could be used to help address the crisis.
“While I am grateful that my amendment for the provision of cash transfers to poor Filipino families was included in the bill, even this provision does not require the grant of new powers,” she said.
“Our arsenal of readily available laws and policies, notably the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184), the Price Act (RA 7582) and the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act (RA 11332), has not been fully utilized in the fight versus COVID-19,” she lamented.
If accompanied with a supplemental budget, Hontiveros said these laws already authorize the government to purchase ample PPEs, medical supplies, relief packages and other needed items, secure that prices of basic goods will remain affordable, and impose preventive community-wide measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, among others.
“I know because these were part of my proposals during the start of this crisis – a crisis that the government underestimated at the beginning,” she stressed.
“Hindi special powers ang sagot sa pandemic na ito, kundi political will para isulong ang mass-testing, ibigay ang PPEs at hazard pay sa mga frontliners, at ihatid ang cash assistance sa mga mahihirap na pamilya at nawalan ng kita (Special powers is not the answer to this pandemic but political will to pursue mass-testing, to provide PPEs and hazard pay to our frontliners and bring cash assistance to our poorest family and workers who lost their livelihood),” she pointed out.