Senate eyes swift approval of ‘Bayanihan to Recover as One’ Act

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Senate will make its best effort to finish discussing the proposed "Bayanihan to Recover as One" Act and pass it before they adjourn sessions this week, Senate President.

BACK TO WORK – Senate President Vicente Sotto III bangs the gavel as senators return from a month-long break to deliberate on the proposed P4.1-trillion 2020 national budget that is being defended by Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara. (JANSEN ROMERO / MANILA BULLETIN) Senate President Vicente Sotto III (JANSEN ROMERO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sotto said this as members of the Upper Chamber resumed on Tuesday, June 2, their deliberation on Senate Bill No. 1564, or the Bayanihan 2, which seeks to grant President Duterte continued special powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and additional spending authority to finance programs supporting affected sectors.

“Best effort,” Sotto told reporters on Viber when asked if they intend to wrap up the period of interpellations and amendments for its approval on second reading within the day.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said President Duterte, however, has yet to certify the bill as urgent. The certification will be needed to allow the two houses of Congress to immediately pass bills on third and final reading.

Zubiri, who earlier said that Malacañang will issue a certification for the Bayanihan 2, said the executive department still wants the extension of the powers granted to the President under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act. No 11469) to prepare for a possible second wave.

“But the measures in the House and now in our floor in the Senate have additional fiscal incentives na hindi na kayang pondohan nang treasury. So they are waiting for all the amendments to see if it’s acceptable and therefore will come out with the certification as a priority measure,” he explained.

SB No. 1564 seeks the continuation of the benefits under the RA 11469, such as the subsidies for 18 million informal sector families, displaced workers, rice farmers, small businesses and health workers dealing with COVID-19 patients.

It also includes cash assistance to teachers, faculty members and non-teaching personnel in private basic and tertiary schools and state universities and colleges

Aside from these, SB No. 1564 also proposes a P236-billion stanbdy fund to finance programs to addressing the pandemic and its impacts.

During their plenary discussion Tuesday, senators recalled that some P353 billion have already been released to concerned agencies for COVID-19 response and that only P130 billion remains available for the recovery plans this year.

Zubiri said the Senate, anyway, could easily approve the bill on second and third reading on Wednesday, June 3, once the certification is released.

He admitted, though, that they "pressed for time", since Congress is scheduled to go on sine die adjournment on June 5.

On the proposals for the extension of sessions or the holding of a special session during the break, the Senate leaders saw no need for such.

"If adopts our version, there will be no need for extension or a special session,” Sotto said.

"We will pass by Thursday (June 4)," he said in a separate text message later.

Similar measures proposing the extension of the validity and some programs under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is still pending in the committee level in the House of Representatives.