House eyed funds for toilets – Drilon
The ratification of the reconciled version of the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, also known as Bayanihan 2, took longer than expected after the House of Representatives insisted on building public toilets and other infrastructure instead of giving direct aid to affected tourism sector workers, according to Sen. Franklin Drilon.
“A lengthy discussion ensued because the congressmen wanted to allot the [P10 billion] fund in building toilets and roads while we in the Senate defended the position of the (Department of Tourism) that it should be used for soft loans,” Drilon said in a radio interview.
He said the House panel to the bicameral conference committee had wanted to place the P10 billion budget under the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) despite the pleas of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines for direct assistance to workers and enterprises.
“We did not agree to use the entire P10 billion for the construction of toilets in tourist areas because we believe that this will not help tourism enterprises and the workers in the tourism industry who lost their jobs,” he said.
Sen. Sonny Angara, who defended the COVID-19 recovery measure during the Senate plenary debates, admitted that the issue prolonged the approval of the bill.
“(The House members) wanted tourism infrastructure citing its multiplier effects. There was a policy debate because Tourism Secretary (Bernadette Romulo-Puyat) and the stakeholders preferred direct assistance. We ended up doing both,” Angara told the INQUIRER.
To end the impasse, the House and Senate panels agreed to earmark P1 billion for “tourism infrastructure” through the Department of Public Works and Highways, P3 billion in financial aid for displaced tourism workers, and P6 billion for loans through the Small Business Corp.
But the bill’s approval did not stop senators from jabbing at congressmen.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that members of the bicameral committee were “selfless in their proposals and advocacies, and had no agenda whatsoever.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III then asked Zubiri if he was referring to the senators.
Angara and Zubiri, who both participated in the session via teleconference, were both heard laughing after Sotto’s remarks.
“No comment, Mr. President. For us the Senate, it was pure advocacy and it will be shown in the records. We fought it out well,” Zubiri said.
Pia takes offense
However, the joke did not sit well with Sen. Pia Cayetano, who also took part in the joint congressional meetings as chair of the Senate ways and means committee.
“I would like to point out that the insinuation that no one in the Senate pushed for anything for personal gain makes it appear that our counterparts in the House did,” Cayetano lamented.
“I take offense that there were many insinuations that the (House panel) had pushed for their personal gains… You all know that the Speaker is my brother,” she continued, referring to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
Cayetano said it was not “a funny joke because these people mean well. They want also to take care of (their) constituents the way we also want to.”
Neither did Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymond Villafuerte, chair of the House bicameral panel, find the pointed remarks amusing when he heard of them.
He said Drilon’s statements on the P10-billion fund for toilets and roads were “fake news” and mere “grandstanding” after the reconciled version was nearer the proposal of the House than the Senate.
“The issue on the P10-billion tourism infrastructure was easily resolved and the Senate actually agreed with the House and [Department of Finance] position that there should be no earmarking for a specific sector including tourism,” he said.
“The final bicam version will clearly show who’s telling the truth and it confirms that most of the salient features came from the House version,” he said in a text message.
The Camarines Sur lawmaker also asked Sotto to specify the provisions that House panel members supposedly tried to push for their “personal gains.”
“The House would gladly address any concern without need for personal attacks and grandstanding,” Villafuerte said.
In a separate statement, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano echoed Villafuerte’s statement that the final bicam report “adopted the initiatives of the House” and said the House of Representatives would ratify the bicameral committee report on Aug. 24.
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