Senate will extend Bayanihan Act for COVID-19 response

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Senate will be extending the validity of the "Bayanihan to Heal as One" Act which gives President Duterte the necessary powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate of the Philippines (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO) Senate of the Philippines (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday assured that the chamber will be voting in favor of prolonging the effectivity of the Republic Act No. 11649.

"'Yong Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, walang kaduda-duda na mae-extend namin 'yon (There is no doubt that we will extend the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act). In what form at kung ano 'yong amendments, depende sa usapan mamaya (what would be the amendments will depend on our meeting later)," Sotto told reporters in an online briefing.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, ways and means committee chair, will lead the meeting between senators and government economic managers about the measures responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak and its impact, he said.

Senators earlier welcomed the proposal filed the House of Representatives seeking to extend the validity of the Bayanihan law for three months. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also said this would be "ideal".

Sotto said the Senate, however, has yet to specify the duration of the extension. They will have consult the executive department for a "more acceptable" period, but maintained that there should be a limitation.

"Para ito maipasa namin, pagdedebatehan lang namin pero either the House or the Senate will adopt each other’s version (We will be able to pass it on time if we debate briefly on this but either the House or the Senate should adopt each other's version). Kailangan ganoon ang mangyari diyan para yon ay mapasa na kaagad on third reading (That should happen so we can pass it on third and final reading),” he reiterated.

Before a bill is sent for the President's approval, both chambers should agree on a final version of the measure and ratify it.

Congress is set to go on sine die adjournment on June 3.

Sotto gave the assurance as he pointed out that the government "badly needs" such a measure giving it the additional authority to solve the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, signed by Duterte last March 24, is only valid for three months, or until June 24.

Among others, it authorized the President to discontinue programs in the executive department under the 2019 and 2020 national budgets and realign and utilize funds to support the programs responding to the national health emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities and the recovery of areas, sectors and industries severely affected by the health crisis.

It also includes the provision of two-month cash aid to 18 million low-income households, as well as benefits for health workers who are treating COVID-19 patients.