Duterte to call Congress to special session as stimulus deadlock starts to resolve
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte updates the nation on the government's efforts in addressing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on March 30, 2020.
Presidential Photo/King Rodriguez
Duterte to call Congress to special session as stimulus deadlock starts to resolve
Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - July 2, 2020 - 3:34pm

MANILA, Philippines — A deadlock between legislators and the Executive department on how to fund stimulus has been partly resolved, paving the way for discussions over one of the administration’s preferred economic booster even as bigger rescue packages pushed by Congress continue to be a sticking point.

As a result, President Rodrigo Duterte is set to ask Congress to convene a special session to enact Bayanihan to Recover As One bill, also known as Bayanihan II, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in an online press briefing on Thursday. 

There was no mention of larger stimulus measures where policymakers still appear to be at loggerheads.

“There’s no timeline yet but this is the first time I heard (Finance) Secretary (Carlos) Dominguez say that the issues have been ironed out more or less and the first time I heard him confirm that we will ask Congress for a special session,” he said.

Dominguez has not responded to request for comment as of this posting, but as it is, lawmakers have around three weeks to pass the legislation in a special session before they begin to a new and regular one by July 26.

In the agenda during a special session, Roque said, would be Bayanihan II, a bill that would restore Duterte’s power to reallocate budgets without Congress approval in a bid to remove red tape and freely fund pandemic response until the end of the year.

That power was already granted by Republic Act No. 11469 or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, but the law expired last June 25 following a three-month validity. From March to June, a total of P374.9 billion was diverted from their original programs to contingencies against coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).

“In the past days, what I heard was maybe the bills will be tackled once regular session resumes, but Secretary Dominguez said we need this now,” Roque said.

Bayanihan II was all set to get passed last month, but the Executive department, led by the finance agency, as well as senators were at loggerheads over additional funds that the bill would authorize once enacted. Apart from repurposing funds under the P4.1-trillion outlay, P170 billion was originally allotted as additional capital to state banks so that they can lend, as well as subsidies to displaced workers and teachers, among others.

The amount was too expensive for the economic managers, who bargained to reduce it to P120 billion to remain within deficit limits. The bill’s current version pegged the additional outlay at P140 billion.

‘What do you mean with unfundable?’

At the House of Representatives on Thursday, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua repeated the administration’s position as far as funding stimulus is concerned: one that cannot go beyond the P4.1-trillion national budget without determining new source of revenues, not borrowings, as per the Constitution.

“We believe we are limited in the fiscal side by both constitutional and prudence requirements…We have actually used that provisions for Bayanihan I. We have some more left for Bayanihan II,” Chua told the House economic affairs hearing on Thursday.

But the committee chair, AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin immediately disagreed with Chua, saying there are already jurisprudence that ran contrary to the government’s position. “Let’s not preempt ourselves, and let the legislative do its work. And if there is any question, let the Supreme Court deal with that,” she said.

Such display of disagreements trickle down to measures meant to fund larger stimulus. They are House Bill 6815 or the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy bill, and House Bill 6709 or the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act, collectively worth around P3 trillion.

“We are one with you on that [fiscal prudence], but then I’ve monitored the news and I saw that you’ve been increasing foreign borrowings and yet you said ARISE bill is ‘unfundable,’” Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, one of ARISE bill’s authors, said.

“Everywhere we go, we are asked what do economic managers mean with unfundable? Is it because we don’t have funds right now, or unfundable because we have misgivings with ARISE bill?” Quimbo said.

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