House priorities: Bayanihan 3, Leonen impeachment
Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen delivers a talk at the court's En Banc Hall on Mar. 21, 2019.
Supreme Court Public Information Office/released

House priorities: Bayanihan 3, Leonen impeachment

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen and the proposed P405.6-billion economic stimulus package Bayanihan 3 will be among the priority measures of the House of Representatives when it resumes session today.

House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on rules, vowed to include in the plenary’s order of business the Leonen impeachment complaint as per “explicit instructions from Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.”

The complaint “will be discussed by his committee” following the Speaker’s endorsement last March 25, when Congress went on a Holy Week break.

The impeachment complaint was filed in December 2020 by Edwin Cordevilla of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, which was endorsed by Ilocos Sur Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba, cousin of former senator Bongbong Marcos.

At the same time, Romualdez said the House leadership will “prioritize the passage” of the P405.6-billion Bayanihan 3 upon the resumption of its three-week session before Congress’ sine die adjournment on June 4.

“We need Bayanihan 3 to help ensure that the economy recovers quickly from the coronavirus disease-19-induced crisis in a strong, sustainable, and resilient manner,” Romualdez, president of Lakas-CMD, stressed.

The House will also deliberate on lawmakers’ move to amend the prohibitive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution through Resolution of Both Houses 2 that Velasco authored, and is now undergoing plenary debates among congressmen.

Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said he hopes that lawmakers will vote for the passage of RBH 2 on third and final reading before they adjourn next month.

On the other hand, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said taking up Charter change “at this crucial time is unnecessary when Congress should be focused on dealing with the pandemic.”

“We should pour financial resources this time with helping Filipino families rebuild their pandemic-hit lives instead of wasting our time with reviving this unproductive Cha-cha exercise,” Villafuerte said.

Economic measures

Economic measures aimed at helping the country pull out of the recession will be on top of the legislative agenda of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The bill seeking to reset the elections of officials in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to 2025 is also going to be a priority of both chambers of Congress with President Duterte expected to certify the measure as urgent, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said.

He said senators will go on a caucus before opening session to come up with a final priority list and lay down some rules, including holding sessions on Thursdays, to ensure the urgent bills sought by Malacañang are passed before Congress adjourns on June 4.

He said he would appeal to his colleagues to try to minimize their interpellations in plenary, adding there are some eight to 10 bills up for third and final reading that the chamber can pass till next week.

He also disclosed that the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council would be convened on Wednesday to come up with the list of legislation that needs to be prioritized.

He said among the bills that Congress aims to approve before adjournment are the proposed amendments to the Public Services Act; Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery Bill.

Congress, he said, will also have to check with the executive branch, particularly the Department of Finance and Bureau of Treasury, if there are enough funds for the proposed Bayanihan 3.

‘Extend validity of Bayanihan 2’

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Pangilinan wants to extend the validity of funds under the Bayanihan 2 Law from June to Dec. 31, 2021 following reports of low utilization of money appropriated to assist transport sector workers displaced by the pandemic.

“Congress appropriated funds for our jeepney drivers but we see them begging on the streets—that’s wrong. We must give them the funds meant for them,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

A progress report by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) revealed that only P40 million has been utilized out of the P5.58 billion, or less than one percent of the total budget set aside for the Service Contracting Program, which aims to provide income to public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers who lost livelihood due to the lockdown.

Republic Act 11519, which extended the availability of appropriations under Bayanihan 2, provides that the budget for programs, projects and activities, including service contracting, shall be available for release, obligation and disbursement until June 30, 2021 or in less than two months.

The Service Contracting Program was designed to hire PUV operators and drivers who lost their routes after transportation was limited due to the lockdown.

Pangilinan said PUV drivers are now bearing the brunt of the inefficiencies of government agencies tasked to implement the program.

He said the proposed extension of the funds’ validity until Dec. 31, 2021 will allow the DOTr and LTFRB to systematize and speed up the program rollout.

Earlier, transport coalition Move As One raised its concern to Pangilinan and proposed several measures to make the implementation of the program faster.

Probe spending

Pangilinan also backed calls for the special audit of the P570-billion fund earmarked under the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 to ensure that public funds are spent accordingly to help alleviate the plight of the poor due to the pandemic.

He said the investigation should tackle the issue on overpriced personal protective equipment, testing kits and laboratory equipment bought by the government.

The senator said the distribution of financial assistance should also be scrutinized amid reports of various anomalies, including the incorrect amount given to the public.

He said the government should religiously update the Senate and House on the spending of the Bayanihan 1 and 2 funds through weekly financial reports as required by law.

“They have to continue reporting and if they don’t, we would exercise the oversight function of Congress to force them to report and give the latest update on spending,” he added. – Paolo Romero

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