By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Government economic managers wanted lawmakers to further amend the proposed “Bayanihan to Recover as One” Act, a reason for its non-certification as a priority measure.
In a radio interview Saturday (June 6), Senate President Vicente Sotto III said President Duterte did not certify the so-called Bayanihan 2 bill as urgent after economic and finance managers submitted at least 32 proposed amendments they wanted inserted in the bill.
Senate Bill (SB) No. 1564 was only approved on second reading before Congress adjourned sine die its first regular session on Friday (June 5).
“Meron pa silang mga 32 amendments, na ang feeling ng mga kapwa ko senador…ay ni-rewrite nila ang pinagdebatehan namin nang napaka-tagal (They had 32 more amendments, which made my fellow senators feel that they are rewriting the measure that we debated on for hours),” Sotto told DWIZ.
“Paano namin gagawin (How will we be able to do that)? Mago-open ulit kami ng second reading (We will re-open the bill for second reading)? Babalik ulit kami sa period of amendments, ipapasok yung 32 amendments na ipinopropose (Go back to the period of amendments, and insert their 32 proposed amendments)? Hindi ganoon kadali ‘yon…para mong binura ang ginawa namin (It’s not that easy, it’s like you erased all that we have done). Kami ang Congress, kami ang Senado eh (But we are the Congress, we are the Senate),” he continued.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also blamed these amendments for the delay in the passage of Bayanihan 2, which was supposed to sustain the government’s efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.
“Kaya ito na-stall eh, ang description nga ni Sen. [Sonny] Angara para naman tayong kumukuha ng exam na di makapasa-pasa (That’s why it was stalled, even Sen. Angara compared it to an exam that we cannot pass). Ayaw naman namin ‘yong pakiramdam namin na para kaming rubberstamp, na kung ano’ng idikta, ‘yon ang ilalabas namin sa batas (And we don’t want to be a rubberstamp, that whatever they dictate will come out in the law),” Lacson said in a separate DWIZ interview later.
Lacson said one of the amendments is to grant the government a “blanket” exemption under the Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and other relevant laws when procuring goods, services, and facilities needed for COVID-19 response.
While the Senate allowed such an exemption, the Bayanihan 2 bill said the purchase must be done “in the most judicious, economical, and expeditious manner”.
Lacson proposed the insertion of the phrase to ensure accountability and prevent the government from buying overpriced items. Earlier, he questioned the administration’s purchase of overpriced medical supplies and equipment, which President Duterte said he authorized.
“Noong dumating ‘yong gustong mangyari ng executive branch, bukod sa tinanggal nga ‘yong ‘judicious’ saka ‘economical’, pati ‘yong ‘expeditious’, pinalawak pa (When the amendments of the executive came, they removed the words ‘judicious’, ‘economical’ and ‘expeditious’ was expanded). Parang gusto blanket exemption na from the government procurement (Like they were asking for a blanket exemption from the government procurement law),” he said.
“‘Pag ito pinilit, eh hindi ako boboto in favor. Kasi ito na naman tayo, ang mga makakagusto lang niyan ‘yong supplier saka ‘yong may ka-connive na tiwali na tao ng gobyerno (If they insist on this, then I will vote against it. Because here we go again, and the only ones favoring this are the suppliers and the corrupt government officials conniving with them),” he pointed out.
Another “contentious” amendment, Lacson said, concerned the resources available for the COVID-19 response and recovery programs. Economic and finance managers told the senators that the government can only shell out P130 billion to P140 billion.
The Senate bill proposed a P140-billion standby fund to finance programs and operations addressing the pandemic and its impacts, including wage subsidies and purchase of test kits, among others.
The House of Representatives’ version, meanwhile, required a spending of P162 billion.
Lacson said he understands the concern of the executive department. “Kung walang pera, paano mo pipigain ng dugo ang singkamas, walang lalabas na dugo sa singkamas (If there is no money, how will you squeeze blood from a turnip, no blood will come out of a turnip),” he said.
Sotto said the executive department may ask Congress to convene a special session to pass Bayanihan 2 to continue the programs under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469).
The powers granted to President Duterte under the law lapsed when Congress adjourned Friday, as the Constitution provided.
But Sotto said the executive and legislative departments should settle first the differences in their propositions.
He said he called Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and suggested that economic managers meet with lawmakers first on the contents of the Bayanihan 2.
“Pag-usapan ng economic managers ano ang pwede at ang hindi, saka kayo tumawag ng special session para ipapasa namin ang Bayanihan 2 as agreed (We should discuss with economic managers what we can and cannot do, and then you call for a special session for us to pass Bayanihan 2 as agreed),” he said.
Sotto said they have yet to agree on a schedule for the special session.