CONGRESSMEN acting as members of the Committee of the Whole approved on Wednesday evening a bill that will extend the special powers given to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to fight the coronavirus by three more months.

The committee barred any interpellations, saying these may be done during plenary debates instead.

The measure, which will extend the law expiring on June 24 until the end of September, combined three House bills and one resolution. House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez presided over the body, while Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio R. Sy-Alvarado sponsored the measure. A Committee of the Whole functions is composed of all the members of the House acting upon a measure.

The law enacted in March empowered the President to realign the national budget for anti-COVID-19 measures. Under the law, low-income households were supposed to get as much as P8,000 in monthly cash aid for two months.

The bill proposes a P162-billion standby fund for recovery and response. This includes P12 billion for the purchase of test kits, P18 billion for cash-for-work programs, P5 billion for people in crisis, P21 billion displaced workers and P50 billion for business loans.

It also allots P21 billion in direct cash subsidy and interest-free loans to agri-fishery enterprises, P21 billion for affected companies in the transportation industry, P10 billion for tourism and P4 billion for “smart campuses” that invest in information and communications technology.

The House still has to approve the bill on second and third readings. The Senate, which approved a counterpart bill on second reading on June 3, ended its Thursday session failed to pass it on third reading in the absence of a notice from the presidential palace certifying the measure as urgent.

Congress will adjourn sine die (with no set date for resumption) on Friday. — Genshen L. Espedido and Charmaine A. Tadalan