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Solons offended by some senators’ insinuation of personal interests in Bayanihan 2

/ 11:38 PM August 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines—  Three members of the House of Representatives were “offended” by statements made by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, among others, that seemed to insinuate that some members of lower chamber were motivated by ”personal interests” rather than “pure advocacy” in their push for the consolidated version of the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill (Bayanihan 2), which the Senate already ratified last week.

Deputy Speaker Dan Fernandez of Laguna, Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo, and Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor issued a statement on the issue on Sunday.

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“If our high and mighty senators feel that the consolidated Bayanihan 2 bill was not up to their standards, then why did they approve it during the bicam talks? The truth is a majority of the good features of Bayanihan 2 were actually introduced by the House and were only adopted by the Senate,” Fernandez said.

“These senators appear conflicted. They want to make it appear that they did their part in passing Bayanihan 2, obviously to worm their way into the good graces of an overwhelming majority of our people who support President Duterte and are appreciative of his Administration’s comprehensive COVID-19 response measures, but they are at the same time distancing themselves from the bill, obviously to please the ragtag band of anti-government critics,” Fernandez added.

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“It is clear as daylight that these pathetic senators have been seized by political schizophrenia in slyly positioning way ahead of the 2022 elections at the expense of the House of Representatives. This is showboating in aid of reelection,” he went on.

The Laguna solon said he took offense at the insinuations made by Zubiri and some other senators that the House had supposedly fought for “a particular personal interest” and that it was only the Senate that had pushed for certain provisions out of their “so-called pure advocacy.”

‘Forked tongue’

For his part, Salo said: “Senator Zubiri should stop speaking with a forked tongue. If his comments during Thursday’s Senate plenary session and his weekend statements to the media — once put together — don’t smack of duplicity, then I don’t know what they are.”

Salo said that Zubiri, in insinuating that the House panelists in the bicam committee had pushed personal interests and were bereft of “pure advocacy” in the Bayanihan 2 negotiations, was “probably caught in a time warp.”

“He could have been referring to the personal and partisan agenda of the House leadership back in those days when he himself was a member of the House representing Bukidnon,” Salo said.

He recalled that Zubiri had served for three terms in the House as Bukidnon representative before he was first elected to the Senate in 2007 amid “dagdag-bawas” (add-subtract) allegations formally hurled against him before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) by his now Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III.

Zubiri eventually quit his Senate post in 2011 to give way to Pimentel, who was later elected Senate president at the start of the Duterte administration.

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‘Not funny’

“Zubiri must be in dreamland during the Senate’s Thursday plenary when he unabashedly claims now that he didn’t have any disparaging remarks about the Senate’s House counterparts in the bicam panel and had even defended the congressmen, because there was a howl of protest from Sen. Pia Cayetano who didn’t find funny the comments made by Zubiri and certain other senators about their peers in the House,” Salo said.

He noted that Cayetano had berated her colleagues for insinuating that the House had an ulterior motive in proposing the P10 billion infrastructure fund for the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) in the Bayanihan 2 bill.

According to media reports, Cayetano said she did not find it “funny” when some senators made such insinuations on the floor, even if it was supposed to be meant as a joke.

“These people mean well. They want to also take care of our constituents the way we also wanted to,” Cayetano was quoted as saying.

Referring to this statement,  Salo said: “So what in heaven’s name did Senator Cayetano gripe about if Sen. Zubiri’s rebuttal that he didn’t denigrate the House panelists in the bicam committee — and had in fact even defended them — were true as he now claims?”

Salo said Zubiri and certain other senators came under fire for “showboating in aid of reelection” in the House for taking turns shaming the consolidated Bayanihan 2 bill on the same day they ratified it last week.

The House is set to ratify the Bayanihan 2 bill when it resumes its session on Monday, Aug. 24.

Urgent need for infrastructure investments

Meanwhile, Salo explained that the House contingent to the bicam committee had stuck during the talks to its original position on the urgent need for infrastructure investments in the badly-hit tourism sector.

“Given the high multiplier impact of infrastructure investments on the economy, infrastructure spending would immediately stimulate growth, create jobs and therefore boost consumer confidence, leading to a rebound in household consumption, which has largely fuelled the Philippine economy,” he said.

“What the industry needs right now are jobs for many of the 5.7 million tourism industry workers who have lost their jobs temporarily or permanently because of the global economic slump wrought by the coronavirus pandemic,” Salo said.

“And such a myriad of instant jobs would come only from infrastructure investments,” he added.

It would be unlikely, Salo pointed out, for tourism industry players, especially the small enterprises or resort owners, to borrow money to revive their businesses with no vaccine yet being discovered against COVID-19 — thus preventing potential tourists from traveling anywhere.

“In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), in its latest assessment, does not see the pandemic going away over the next years,” Salo added.

The near-term outlook for Philippine aviation did not look encouraging either, he went on, citing reported projections of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that air passenger volume for 2020 wouldn’t reach half of the 4.53 billion air travelers recorded in 2019.

‘Superior’ House version

Defensor also hit back at senators who “claim to have acted on pure advocacy.”

He said that the House contingent had “the superior version” of the Bayanihan 2 bill as it introduced 40 major provisions of the final version of the measure, which were merely adopted by its Senate counterpart during the three-day marathon deliberations.

“My suggestion is to authorize the secretariat to release the minutes of the sessions of the bicam talks so the public would know who had presented the majority of the major provisions in the final Bayanihan 2 bill and who among the bicam members had actually been lobbying actively for which interest groups during the entire discussions to come up with the consolidated version,” Defensor said.

According to him, the minutes of the deliberations would show that the members of the House contingent were fair and objective during the discussions on some of the contentious provisions of Bayanihan 2.

One contentious issue was the House proposal to allocate P10 billion for the infrastructure projects of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).

The senators wanted this retained in their version as direct funding support for the tourism industry through the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the form of soft loans earmarked for this specific sector.

“What the senators, the DOT officials and the big industry groups like the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) had wanted was a travesty because, first, the DOT has no legal authority to administer loans for tourism establishments or groups, and, second, it contravened the position of the Department of Finance (DOF) that there should be no earmarking of funds for particular sectors and that the funds should be coursed through GFIs (government financial institutions),” Defensor said.

Hence, Defensor said, the funds intended as soft loans for micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) and other groups like the tourism and transport sectors were, in the bicam-approved version, coursed through the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Small Business Corp. (SBC), and the Philippine Guarantee Corp.

Key provisions

Following are some of the key provisions introduced by the House that were eventually adopted by the bicam panel in the final version of Bayanihan 2:

  • Granting the authority to reprogram and realign funds to buy personal protective equipment, vaccines, and medicines; set up isolation and testing facilities and field hospitals; and subsidize COVID-19 positive patients
  • Authorizing local government units to realign local funds for COVID-19 response
  • Retroactively applying to Feb. 1 the P100,000 hazard duty pay for health workers and P1 million to be provided to the heirs of every health worker in case of COVID-related death
  • Directing the use of unutilized portions of the Municipal Development Fund for COVID-19 response
  • Allowing the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Labor and Employment through a memorandum of agreement to transfer funds to LGUs for assistance programs
  • Allowing a 60-day grace period for payment of loans
  • Removing the initial public offering (IPO) tax
  • Exempting from compulsory notification for two years  mergers and acquisitions with transaction values below P50 billion and one-year exemption from motu proprio investigations
  • Creating a national online electronic application system accessible to everyone in each LGU to provide contact tracing capacity
  • Exempting imported personal protective equipment from duties as determined by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), provided that preference for locally produced products are ensured
  • Allowing use of the unutilized or unreleased balance in special purpose funds for COVID-19 response
  • Mandating the priority lending for MSMEs, cooperatives, hospitals, tourism industry, and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) through GFIs

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TAGS: Bayanihan 2, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Dan Fernandez, House-Senate feud, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Mike Defensor, Ron Salo
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