CONGRESS will resume its session on May 4 even though President Rodrigo R. Duterte has extended the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the National Capital Region.
Asked if senators will be physically present in the Session Hall, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters via Viber: “Yes and I don’t have to ask. It’s a mandate of our legislative calendar.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said that he “fully supports” some legislators’ call to conduct sessions via teleconference facilities.
“A draft Resolution is being prepared and should (be) routed to all our members by tomorrow for further comments and amendments. We may still need to attend the opening on May 4 to tackle this resolution,” he told reporters via mobile message on Friday.
“Once we reach a consensus on video sessions, we can then tweak our video equipment at the senate and set up Zoom-like conferences with our members and Secretariat officers to conduct our business for the day. Everything would be strictly recorded and would be considered as part of our senate data and archives. While we await a vaccine for this deadly virus and the spread of this disease continues, this may be the new normal for the meantime,” he added.
Meanwhile, Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said that the House of Representatives may conduct its regular sessions through teleconferencing apps, similar to the special session it held on March 23.
“Well I have to consult the leaders of the House, but most probably kung paano kami nag convene nung March 23. Totoo po na may risk, totoo po na may danger, pero ang katotohanan kailangan makita ng tao na may gobyerno, na yung gobyerno nagtatrabaho para sa kanila. So we will take all the precautions,” he said during an ambush interview which was streamed on Facebook on Friday. (Well I have to consult the leaders of the House, but most probably it will be done the way we convened on March 23. It is true there is a risk, it is true that there may be danger, but the truth is that people have to see that there is a government, that the government is working for them. So we will take all the precautions.)
In response to the President’s statement that the government is “running low on funds,” Mr. Sotto said that the Senate is “ready to do its part” on May 4.
“At this point, everything is in the hands of the [executive department]. We have not received any request for a supplementary budget. We will be ready to do our part on the 4th of May,” he said.
Senate committee on finance chair Juan Edgardo M. Angara said that if a supplemental budget is needed, both houses of Congress will conduct a hearing on it.
“If a supplemental budget is needed, I’m sure both houses of Congress will hear and pass that to authorize the President and the Executive branch to spend more or to realign from existing budgetary items. This is to meet the challenges posed by the virus which were unknown when we passed the 2020 budget and we acknowledge that the President may need some flexibility to react to future contingencies,” he said.
Meanwhile, the House Speaker said that Congress will also be looking into the 2019 and 2020 budget to “see if the government and the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) is cancelling the right project… o meron silang logic sa pagkukunan ng pera (or if there is a logic in getting the money).”
“Remember there’s life after COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) or life after ECQ. And life after ECQ siguro may COVID pa rin but it still means na dapat may development sa bawat sulok ng ating bansa (there will probably still be COVID but it still means that there should be development in each corner of our country),” he said.
Mr. Cayetano said he disagrees with Budget and Management Secretary Wendel E. Avisado that the budget under “general relief” cannot be tampered with.
“Ang sinasabi niya hindi pwedeng galawin yung (what he said that we cannot touch the) general relief which is actually about a little bit over P4 trillion of the P4.2 trillion. So yung natitira sa P2 trillion marami dun infra and parating sinasabi ng economic team hindi dapat magalaw yung infra unless useless yung project or hindi kayang i-implement yung project (so the remaining P2 trillion, it has a lot of infra and the economic team keeps saying that we should not touch infra unless the project is useless or cannot be implemented),” he said.
“So I disagree po with Secretary Avisado that hindi pwedeng kanselin o kunan yung mga may general relief na. Eh kung ganun yung attitude bakit pa kami nagpasa ng Bayanihan We Heal as One (Republic Act 11469) (So I disagree with Secretary Avisado that we cannot cancel or get something from general relief. If that was their attitude, why did we even pass the Bayanihan We Heal as One Act). So those are things that we will have to discuss with them through the committees and through plenary actions,” Mr. Cayetano added.
Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Congress gave President Duterte the authority to realign or reallocate funds in the 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Acts to address COVID-19 in the country. — Genshen L. Espedido