Congress to hold special session to pass budget vs COVID-19
The government has enough funds to combat the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) even as President Rodrigo Duterte urged Congress to hold a special session to pass a P1.6-billion supplemental budget for the COVID-19 response.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, gave this assurance but did not disclose just how much the government can spare to curb the spread of the disease.
The Palace official said they would “need the help of Congress.” The Senate said it would convene a special session to deliberate on the President’s request for additional funds.
“The President has already assigned certain persons to talk to Congress on how we will work together to make these funds available for all of the needs—health, social amelioration, giving aid to our countrymen and even economic recovery,” he said.
While Luzon remains on lockdown, the House of Representatives has begun arrangements for a special session of Congress to enact urgent funding measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
House leaders said they intend to maintain social distancing protocols among the 300-plus lawmakers expected to participate in the special session called by Mr. Duterte during the congressional break.
“We shall convene Congress at the earliest possible time, while taking all the necessary social distancing protocols to ensure that the proceedings will be safe and secure for all those who will be attending,” Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Thursday night.
One bill to be prioritized is the supplemental budget “that would give the executive department more flexibility in containing the spread of COVID-19, and help ease the burden brought about by the pandemic among our nation’s most vulnerable sectors,” the Taguig lawmaker said.
On March 10, the House appropriations committee approved a bill proposing a P1.65-billion supplemental fund for the Department of Health to procure badly needed personal protective equipment for health workers and other supplies, including test kits for COVID-19. But the chamber did not have enough time to discuss the measure in plenary session.
Congress adjourned for the Lenten break on March 11.
No date has been set for the special session, but House leaders said it would be “soon,” likely in the next few days.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it would be better if lawmakers could convene on March 21 instead of next week.
On Friday, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez cited plans to ensure there would be little to no risk of infection among those going to Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.
“Plans, including observing social distancing amid quarantine are being finalized to guarantee the safety of our House employees, officials, media and lawmakers attending the special session,” Romualdez said.
As much as P56 billion is available in the national government’s coffers for unconditional cash transfers (UCT) to poor Filipinos reeling from the economic toll of COVID-19, according to Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda.
Legarda, a former Senate finance chair, revealed on Friday that the amount could be easily distributed to poor families immediately.
Legarda said there was unspent funding of P18.7 billion from the 2019 budget for unconditional cash transfers, and an extra allocation of P36.4 billion for the same purpose under the 2020 spending law.
“In addition, there is still P1.7-billion UCT to be distributed under the 2018 GAA (General Appropriations Act). [Thus] a total of P56 billion funds are available,” she said in a statement.
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