Senate specifies prompt and free testing, support for front-liners, cash transfers to vulnerable
“We would have voted ‘Yes’ but with serious reservations.
The original draft bill was an attempt to get ‘unli’ emergency powers and ‘unli’ spending powers. While it limited the exercise of these powers to two months, it also gave the President the power to extend it to however long he wants, and was quiet on how much and how it would be spent. The Senate limited the powers to 90 days and any extension will require Congressional approval.
My colleagues in the Senate, and with our submitted written amendments, took away those dangerous provisions, particularly the government’s prerogative to take over companies (except to direct the operation of health facilities and passenger vessels) while the COVID-19 crisis rages.
The Senate was also able to provide for what our people need now and what we, echoing the clamor of the people and various experts, have been calling for: prompt and free testing, support to front-liners, and cash transfers to the vulnerable.
In a major way, in the Senate version, we were able to exert our influence on the Executive on how the crisis must be addressed — not in the haphazard, confusing, and damaging way that it has so far faced this life-and-death situation.
The Senate version, now fully adopted by the House of Representatives, put some order, transparency, and accountability in the chaos, as it (1) prioritizes the distribution of medical supplies and the augmentation of the budget; (2) limits the President’s power to realign funds to “Savings” within the Executive branch; (3) grants grace periods for loans and rental payments; (4) includes an expanded and more comprehensive 4Ps; (5) provides P5,000 up to P8,000 emergency subsidy a month, for a period of two months, to 18 million low-income families; (6) exempts from import taxes the importation of equipment and supplies needed for COVID-19 response; (7) grants P100,000 or P1,000,000 to public and private health workers who may contract or die from COVID-19; (8)requires the President to report to Congress weekly all acts performed pursuant to the Act, including the amount and corresponding utilization of funds used, augmented, reprogrammed, reallocated, and realigned; (9) removes from the President the delegation of penal powers and specifies punishable acts under the law; (10) clarifies that the Constitution prevails over any provision of the law; and (11) makes the effectivity of the law three months unless extended by Congress.
These sweeping revisions would not have been possible without the inspiring effort of concerned Filipinos who voiced their opposition to the original version via the email and social media accounts of their legislators.
And as we said in our phone-in verbal explanation of vote, our ‘Yes’ vote comes with both a warning and an admonition. It is a warning and an admonition to the IATF that our people deserve better from them. And that the incoherent and often confusing, conflicting, and haphazard policy pronouncements in the past two weeks ought to be the last coming from IATF.
We will call them out should we see that the law and funding we have put in place are not being implemented as envisioned. Beginning today and until the day we have defeated this virus, we would urge and call out the IATF and this administration to ensure that the law is effectively implemented, and the health and welfare of our citizens are protected and upheld.
But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of the law is in the implementation.”
Note: Senate Rules require physical presence for a senator to be able to vote in plenary debates. We sought the suspension of the rule but this was not allowed by the Majority and instead we were given the opportunity to make manifestations via phone patch. Thus only 12 votes were officially counted in the Senate. But 8 senators who were not physically present during the voting were allowed to manifest what their vote would have been had they been present during the voting.