By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Officials of the executive branch would be called to a “full-blown” inquiry in the Senate about its efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and plans to minimize its recessionary impacts.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, during their session Tuesday afternoon, proposed to his colleagues to convene a committee of the whole to be briefed on the government’s COVID-19 response and economic stimulus programs.
Recto said it would be “important” not only for the Senate, but also the public, to be informed on the measures that national government are implementing and are planning to undertake to address the problems brought about by the pandemic.
The briefing would also aid them in coming up with pieces of legislation that would help the executive department address the health crisis.
“So that we could communicate this to the public and find out how can we be of help, more so that there is talk of an economic stimulus plan, not to mention that by July, the executive [department] will be submitting a budget for 2021,” Recto said over teleconference.
“We have to look at this at a larger context, it is not only about tourism…It is primarily a health issue, but has become an economic issue, this is also a social issue, that we should discuss openly in plenary. This is not only an oversight of the Bayanihan Act but this is to inform as a representatives of the people what government plans to do, moving forward,” he explained.
Recto particularly mentioned the need for updates on the social amelioration programs under “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Act, the country’s testing capacity, and information on the government’s available resources for COVID-19 response.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon supported Recto’s suggestion.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said they could schedule the hearing of the committee of the whole next week, inviting officials of the Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, National Economic and Development Authority, as well as the Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Socials Welfare and Development, Department of Agriculture, among others.
Recto said the Senate committee of the whole could take up one cluster per day, and officials could participate in the inquiry via teleconference, since the Senate had allowed online presence in plenary sessions.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, however, reminded his colleagues not to consider the hearing as an oversight inquiry, because the Republic Act 11469 already provided for a joint congressional oversight committee to monitor the law’s implementation.
Meanwhile, Sen. Grace Poe said the public services committee will meet with officials and stakeholders of the transport sector, on Monday, May 11, to discuss the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak and measures addressing these.