Duterte urged: Call for special Congress session to pass 'Bayanihan 3'

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Duterte urged: Call for special Congress session to pass 'Bayanihan 3'
This photo taken March 23, 2020 shows the House of Representatives in a special session to tackle proposed measures to grant President Rodrigo Duterte with additional powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The STAR / Felicer Santos

MANILA, Philippines — (Updated 4:19 p.m.) President Rodrigo Duterte must call for a special session of Congress to pass a measure that would give emergency cash subsidies to vulnerable households and replenish the government's dwindling pandemic funds, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Tuesday.  

Congress is on break until May 17 but Drilon said the Senate is prepared to hold a special session to pass another economic stimulus package, or Bayanihan 3, and expand the government’s cash subsidy program amid the strict lockdown placed on the National Capital Region and nearby areas.  

This comes a day after Malacañang claimed a lack of funds for more aid, ruling out any further extension of the enhanced community quarantine in the NCR+ bubble even though increases in new cases are still breaking records and hospitals are still overwhelmed. 

"They said there won't be an extension because there's no more money. For me, that's wrong," Drilon said in Filipino during an interview with radio DZRH. 

“There are many intelligence funds, anti-insurgency funds... the president needs to call a special session to address this. Realign items that are not needed."

Under the General Appropriations Act, P19 billion is allocated for the anti-insurgency fund and P9.5 billion is allocated for confidential and intelligence funds. 

Meanwhile, some 22.9 million poor families in the NCR+ bubble stand to receive one-time aid of P1,000 either in cash or in kind to help them through yet another round of ECQ. Per family, cash aid will not exceed P4,000. 

However, this aid is not expected to be available until at least mid-April, even though the stricter lockdown has been in place for more than a week now. 

Drilon warns vs. repeat of record-high unemployment, hunger seen in 2020 

In a separate statement, Drilon noted that the pandemic-induced lockdown last year left 7.6 million families hungry. He also cited the unemployment rate which rose to 17.7%, equivalent to around 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos last April 2020. 

"This is the situation that we have to prepare for. We cannot let another 7.6 million Filipino families go hungry this year," he said. "Our inaction or delayed action can make another 7.3 million Filipinos lose their jobs again this month. We cannot let businesses permanently shut down."

“After all, it is the ineptitude of the Department of Health and the IATF which brought us to this situation,” he also said.

Palace cool to fresh stimulus package proposals

In February, after close administration ally House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) filed a P420-billion Bayanihan 3 bill along with Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo (Marikina), Malacañang said the government still had enough financial resources for its pandemic response. 

In response to Drilon's comments, Velasco later Tuesday told state-run PTV that the lower chamber is also ready to swiftly pass its Bayanihan 3 measure "if need be." 

He added that the bill is still being studied by the committees on economic affairs and social services. "[B]y the time the measures are finished at the committee level, we would have resumed session in May."

"However, if Malacañang certifies the bill as urgent, we will comply." 

Under Section 15, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the president is granted the authority to call a special session of Congress at any time.

Lacson on push for 'Bayanihan 3': Gov't must update list of benificiaries first

Sen. Panfilo Lacson later Tuesday weighed in on Drilon's proposal, warning that both the national and local governments must first update their data for intended recipients of badly-needed aid.

"[T]he Department of Social Welfare and Development is using is a five-year-old list that is already out of date, hence real-time needs and priorities are not being properly addressed, not to mention the corruption involved in the distribution of such dole-outs because of such a defective list," he said.

Last June 2020, DSWD said its ongoing validation of the distribution of the first tranche of emergency cash subsidy under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) uncovered around 22,000 duplicate beneficiaries from aid programs.

In September last year, senators called out DSWD for failing to distribute some P10 billion in aid — equivalent to an estimated 4 million families — as mandated by Bayanihan 1.

Lacson also pressed authorities to develop "a sense of urgency" towards the country's vaccination program, another aspect of its pandemic response that has been criticized as delayed and slow-going.

The senator renewed his call on the government to "allow the private sector more participation with better flexibility in the vaccination program, adding that doing so would be "true to the government's 'whole-of-nation approach' theme, which is turning out to be mere platitude and lip service."





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