Donât blame us for stalled COVID aid bill â Senate
“We did pass it (Bayanihan to Recover as One Act) on second reading. No third reading because they (Malacañang) did not certify it as urgent. Do not put the blame on us,” Senate PresidentSotto said.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, File

Don’t blame us for stalled COVID aid bill — Senate

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It’s not the fault of senators that they adjourned without passing the bill expanding coverage of the Bayanihan Act as Malacañang itself did not certify the proposed measure as urgent, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

“We did pass it (Bayanihan to Recover as One Act) on second reading. No third reading because they (Malacañang) did not certify it as urgent. Do not put the blame on us,” Sotto said.

He lamented that the chamber waited for two days this week for Malacañang to certify Senate Bill 1564 or the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which is meant to replace Republic Act 11469 that declared a state of national emergency and granted Duterte special powers to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

The delay was largely caused by Malacañang’s insistence on retaining some of President Duterte’s special powers – including taking over private medical facilities and transportation – and putting a budget cap on the various financial aid to distressed sectors.

The “authorized powers” – including realigning funds, imposing stiffer penalties on certain criminal acts and taking over private hospitals, medical and health facilities, and transportation – under the Bayanihan Act, however, were only in effect until Congress adjourned.

Sotto said the chamber was bent on passing SB 1564 so that various financial aid to affected sectors can be extended and expanded, to include teachers, drivers of public utility vehicles and those in the creative industry.

But he said a Malacañang certification is needed so that the Senate could skip the three-day rule in passing the legislation on third and final reading.

Sen. Sonny Angara, who sponsored the bill as chairman of the finance committee, said that while Malacañang did not certify the bill as urgent, he and his colleagues had “no regrets” about having drafted the measure that they thought could benefit the most number of people. “We did it so we can help our people,” Angara said.

The original amount proposed was P236 billion but the Department of Finance (DOF) had impressed upon senators that the national coffers could only afford P140 billion.

The chamber was set to pass the measure on third and final reading on Thursday after approving it on second reading the day before. However, Malacañang sent over 30 last-minute amendments while the Senate was already in session, and asked that they be incorporated into the bill before a certification would be issued.

Among the provisions the DOF wanted shot down was the grant of tuition subsidies to students not receiving any educational assistance or voucher programs from the government, but were facing financial difficulties due to work stoppages or business closures.

The DOF also wanted the proposed one-time cash grants for affected teaching and non-teaching personnel in private and public schools removed.

Such grants would entail additional funding that may not be covered by the P140-billion budget ceiling, according to the DOF.

Malacañang also wanted the Senate to retain Section 4(h) of the Bayanihan Act that allows the President to take over the operations of any privately owned hospital, medical and health facility and public transportation “when the public interest so requires.”

The provision also provides for appropriate compensation for the establishment taken over by the government. Duterte earlier said he would exercise such powers only under extreme circumstances.

Power to realign

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Duterte can exercise his power to realign the executive’s budget to augment funds for the government’s COVID-19 activities and continue to provide relief to the poor, displaced local workers and returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), who lost their jobs abroad due to the pandemic.

“The Constitution, our laws and the ruling of the Supreme Court on the Disbursement Acceleration Program, Araullo v. Aquino (G.R. No. 209287, July 1, 2014), have provided enough leeway for the President to realign the budget, augment funding and act on a crisis and emergency of this magnitude like COVID-19 pandemic,” Drilon said.

He pointed to specific provisions of the Constitution and various laws that allow use of savings and realignment of funds in order for the government to respond to crises.

He said the President is authorized to suspend the expenditure of appropriations, declare savings and realign the same under Article VI, Section 25 of the Constitution, Section 38 and 39 of the Revised Administrative Code, and Section 66 of the 2020 General Appropriations Act.

In accordance with Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution and the ruling of the Supreme Court on the Disbursement Acceleration Program, Drilon said the President may realign savings within the executive branch to other items of existing appropriations or items in the 2020 General Appropriations Act to fund COVID-19 response activities.

Drilon said it was “unfortunate” that Congress was unable to pass the new Bayanihan law. He urged the government to continuously provide for the welfare and wellbeing of Filipinos severely affected by the pandemic.

“The non-passage of the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act should not prevent the President from continuing to implement programs, projects and activities in Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that have corresponding appropriations in the General Appropriations Act,” Drilon said.

He said the 2020 General Appropriations Act – specifically Section 66 of the General Provisions – also authorized the President, as well as the Senate President, the Speaker House of Representatives and the Chief Justice, among others, “to declare and use savings in their respective appropriations to augment actual deficiencies incurred for the current year in any item of their respective appropriations.”

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