President Rodrigo Duterte has called on Congress to hold a special session in order to pass supplemental budget and give the Chief Executive and concerned agencies the flexibility of utilizing funds to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Go said he and his colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives recommended to the President the conduct of a special session by Congress so that the legislative branch can convene.
“President Duterte has already responded to this recommendation and has called on Congress to hold the Special Session immediately,” said Go.
Go said he discussed the matter with Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano who both said that they are ready to hold the Special Session at the soonest possible time, either on Saturday or Monday next week.
Based on their discussion, Go said the priority would be ensuring that additional funds can be allocated for immediate healthcare needs and for much-needed financial and food assistance to Filipinos, particularly the vulnerable sectors, daily wage earners and informal economy workers affected by the strict quarantine measures.
Go said both Houses of Congress committed to find ways to respond to the needs of the people, especially at this time when decisive government action is imperative.
“Congress could start tackling a possible food subsidy budget for those affected by the month-long enhanced community quarantine being enforced in Luzon to contain the spread of the new coronavirus,” Go said.
Sotto said Congress could convene in a special session on Saturday if they can receive a letter from Malacañang on Friday
“Yes if we receive the President’s letter today,” Sotto said when asked if Congress would hold its special session on Saturday.
In an interview over dzMM, Sotto said Congress could pass a bill that would allow the President to use unspent funds to ensure food security amid the health crisis, among others.
“I’m not sure if we would call it a supplemental budget but it would be like a bill or a law allowing the President to use unused funds for this particular..for COVID-19,” he said
Sotto said he proposed to hold a special session after high-level economists raised the possibility local government units (LGUs) might no longer have funds for the foods of their constituents. He warned of possible public order and financial crisis.
“At least two high-level economists, big businessmen, what they’re worried about, by Monday, Tuesday, the funds of LGUs may run out and it’s hard to always resort to food distributions. You will buy the food, prepare it, you will pack it, and then distribute it,” Sotto said.
The Senate leader said he relayed to Malacañang the recommendations by these people.
“I called up Secretary (Carlos) Dominguez. They were suggesting that we should give families cash to buy food because that could also be an economic stimulus. So, if that would be the case, we are talking about a significant amount of money so a mere supplemental budget may not suffice. But there is a lot of available budget from the 2019 and 2020 GAA that we can use because this is an emergency. This is a different kind of crisis, we may no longer have a country if we don’t act now,” said Sotto.
He said they are now formulating and waiting for the submission of the Department of Finance (DOF) on the format of the “fastbreak bill.
“First reading should be done in the morning, second reading in the afternoon and third reading in the late afternoon. Once approved, the subsidy would be distributed to families, especially to those whose jobs were compromised by the Luzon-wide quarantine,” said Sotto.
According to Sotto, this will involve a significant amount of money that would not be immediately released but would be available for the President to distribute to Filipino families, especially to those who lost their jobs, those who are “no work, no pay,” and those whose budget is scarce, the subsidy will be distributed to them instead of to the local government units scrambling to prepare food packs.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel said they are ready for a special session.
“Since national government issued the quarantine declaration, it should start moving now,” said Pimentel as he called the attention of the DSWD to start helping the people as if a strong typhoon just passed by the entire Luzon.
“That should be the DSWD’s mental image. Kilos na. Prioritize food,” further stated Pimentel./Stacy Ang