By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri welcomed on Friday President Duterte’s plan to call for a special session of Congress to pass another measure addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts.
“I welcome a possible special session for the passage of a Bayanihan to Heal as one extension as the first law recently expired,” Zubiri told reporters in a Viber message.
“Being legislators, we swore an oath to do our job to the best of our abilities and so if there is a call for a special session to address the problems during these trying times, then so be it and we will be there to heed the call,” he added.
Zubiri said the executive department, specifically the President’s economic managers, should set out what they want for the legislation.
“For the record, the Senate had passed on second reading the extension with some amendments that we thought could help stimulate some needed sectors and the economy. However, the Finance team did not recommend its certification at that time so here we are today,” he recalled.
“We would only like to request that the executive department, particularly the Finance team, knows what they want and coordinate with both houses [of Congress] to come up with a doable compromise so they won’t waste the President’s time and effort in calling for a special session,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Thursday that Duterte will call for a special session to pass a law that will again grant him “emergency powers” to respond to the pandemic as well as stimulus plans to help the country ride out its effects.
The special session will be called once the executive branch’s proposal is finalized, Roque said.
Congress is currently on a break and will resume sessions in July.
Economic managers had opposed a proposed economic stimulus package that would require too much borrowing, particularly the P1.3-trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE) bill passed by the House of Representatives. They said this was “unconstitutional” and “not fundable” due to the lack of revenue sources.
Before they adjourned sine die last June 4, the Senate passed on second reading its proposed “Bayanihan to Recover as One” Act, or the Bayanihan 2, which proposes a P140-billion standby fund to finance COVID-19 response and initial recovery programs, such as wage subsidies, and purchase of test kits.
A similar measure is pending in the House of Representatives which requires a spending of P162 billion.
Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate finance committee chair and sponsor of the Bayanihan 2, recalled that the senators have trimmed down to P140 billion their initial proposition of P236 billion for the standby fund due to the Department of Finance’s concern.
“Without any certification of urgency there can be no legislative action [on this] until after the President’s [State of the Nation Address],” Angara said in a text message.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the executive department asked for at least 32 amendments to the Bayanihan 2 bill.
Among the proposed amendments, according to Senator Panfilo Lacson, is the supposed grant of “blanket” exemption under Republic Act No. 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act, and other relevant laws when procuring goods, services, and facilities needed for COVID-19 response.
While the Senate had allowed such an exemption, the Bayanihan 2 bill said the purchase must be done “in the most judicious, economical, and expeditious manner.” The executive branch wanted this phrase removed, Lacson said.
“‘Pag ito pinilit, eh hindi ako boboto in favor. Kasi ito na naman tayo, ang mga makakagusto lang nyan ‘yong supplier saka ‘yong may ka-connive na tiwali na tao ng gobyerno (If they insist on this, then I would have to vote against it. Because we will be repeating the same problem and only those who would favor it are the unscrupulous suppliers who are conniving with corrupt government officials),” Lacson said.