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‘Congress special session, Duterte extra powers invalid’

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
âCongress special session, Duterte extra powers invalidâ
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of nine House members who voted against the passage of the “Bayanihan To Heal As One Bill,” argued that the conduct of deliberations and voting in the House of Representatives were unlawful.
Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The special session of Congress and the chamber’s granting President Duterte special powers to combat the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic were invalid, a veteran lawmaker said yesterday.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of nine House members who voted against the passage of the “Bayanihan To Heal As One Bill,” argued that the conduct of deliberations and voting in the House of Representatives were unlawful.

He alleged that the unprecedented system of session via electronic platforms was “not legal because the innovation was not validly effected by a proper amendment of the existing pertinent House rule/practice requiring the physical presence of members in the plenary hall for the determination of a quorum and ascertainment of the requisite vote.”

Lagman claimed that the suspension or amendment of the House rules to allow such online and text voting “was not even formally moved, requested or required.”

Citing another technical ground, the lawmaker branded the special session as a “sham” because Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announced the presence of a quorum “without a roll call and with a declaration that practically all members are purportedly on ‘official business’ in their respective constituencies in order to consider them ‘present’ but without the right to vote in absentia.”

“Consequently, House Bill No. 6616 was invalidly passed,” stressed Lagman, a perennial petitioner in the Supreme Court.

Lagman further argued that the bill is unconstitutional as it realigns items in the 2020 national budget already enacted into law last January.

“Authorizing the President to cause the ‘discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities’ to generate forced savings demeans the congressional power of the purse and even allows the President to dismantle funds appropriated by the Congress in the GAA,” he said, referring to the General Appropriations Act.

“This extraordinary budgetary power may constitute ‘transfer of funds’ prohibited by Section 25 of Article VI, and therefore unconstitutional,” he added.

In opposing the measure, Lagman explained that additional budget is unnecessary because there are adequate funding under the 2020 GAA to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, citing the P13-billion contingency fund.

“Under Section 66 of the General Provisions of the GAA, the President is already authorized to use legitimate savings in the executive department and to augment deficient appropriations from such savings,” he pointed out.

“The grant of additional emergency powers to the President to combat COVID-19 is unnecessary because he has express and inherent powers as Chief Executive which he has been discharging nationwide to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus,” the lawmaker added.

Lagman lamented that the bill does not even include a supplemental budget or an economic stimulus package.

He believed that Congress should have instead passed supplemental budget instead of giving the President special powers, which he claimed would further exacerbate the fear of the public.

Apart from Lagman, the eight other lawmakers who voted against the bill were all six members of the Makabayan bloc – Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago; Magdalo Rep. Manuel Cabochan III and Camarines Sur Rep. Gabriel Bordado Jr.  

They were outvoted by an overwhelming 284 lawmakers who voted to pass House Bill No. 6616 on third and final reading during the lower chamber’s special session on Monday before midnight.

COVID-19 SPECIAL POWERS
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