Palace, Congress agree to hold special session
MANILA, Philippines — Congress will hold a special session on Monday to approve a measure that will allow President Rodrigo Duterte to realign available funds to address the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country, according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
The decision was reached at a meeting with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado and several lawmakers in Malacañang on Saturday.
Sotto said Congress planned to approve a bill to give the President “financial authority to realign funds available to address the COVID-19 emergency crisis.”
The amount of funds would not be specified in the bill, but he said the officials’ projection was that the country would need some P200 billion for the next two months for food and cash for some 16.5 million families nationwide.
Sotto said this would not necessarily mean that the quarantine imposed on Luzon, which was supposed to last only until April 12, would be extended “but better to be prepared.”
The amount to be realigned, he said, would be taken from the available funds of government-owned and -controlled corporations.
Sen. Christopher Go, chair of the health committee, said the proposed bill “aims to further empower and give the government the flexibility it needs to address the present health emergency.”
Moreover, it would give flexibility for realignments in the budgets of concerned agencies so that they could fund immediate health care needs and food and cash assistance to affected Filipinos, particularly those belonging to vulnerable sectors, he said.
No problem with quorum
Sotto said there was no problem expected with regard to the quorum in the Senate as he noted earlier that most senators supported a special session.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a radio interview that the proposed financial authority would allow the government to focus funds and resources that need it most during this time of calamity.
Major cities with large incomes could use their funds while the national government would direct the funds toward smaller towns that need help, Lacson said over dwIZ.
Senators were also looking to introduce amendments to give hazard pay to nurses, doctors, other health workers, police and the military, he said.
But opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman said a special session was not necessary since the Office of the President already has enough funds for this purpose, including a P13-billion contingency fund.
Lagman said the government can also use the P16 billion earmarked for the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund (NDRRMF) in the 2020 budget.
“Consequently, there is no need for a special session to tackle this implausible agenda… Only the President’s approval is required for the utilization of both the Contingent Fund and NDRRMF,” he said.
“The scrapping of the projected special session, which is not of critical immediacy, will foreclose lengthy debates on suspending or amending the Rules of the House even without a quorum to ‘legitimize’ a virtual plenary session and long-distance voting,” he said.
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