Senators ask gov't about its plan after passage of special powers law
MANILA, Philippines – It's been 5 days since a law granting President Rodrigo Duterte special powers took effect, but senators on Monday, March 30, said they have not seen a plan or report on how the national government is making use of those powers to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Malacañang should submit a weekly report to Congress every Monday on how it has been addressing the pandemic, given the additional funds and flexibility that the law is granting Duterte and various agencies.
"We're almost halfway in our enhanced community quarantine…gusto nating makita na ipinapatupad ang batas at inilalaan ang pondo nang ayon dito at gaya ng inaasahan," opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan said. (We want to see that the law is being implemented and that funds are allocated accordingly and as expected.)
Pangilinan said government must clarify whether it has already put in place a mechanism for "prompt and free testing" of coronarvirus cases. He also asked if the government knows how long the country's food supply would last.
Avoid desperate measures
Senator Panfilo Lacson cited the cash aid to 18 million low-income households which the new law mandates. Under the law, the government should provide P5,000 to P8,000 worth of aid per family, depending on the prevailing regional minimum wage.
"The old Filipino adage, 'Aanhin pa ang damo, kung patay na ang kabayo' (What will you do with the grass if the horse is already dead?) should be repeatedly reminded to the officials in charge of implementing the distribution of the cash dole-outs to the 18 million families," Lacson said.
Lacson cautioned against the slow disbursement of emergency aid during the coronavirus lockdown.
"At this time when daily wage earners must have exhausted whatever limited savings and personal loans they subsist on, every meal missed by their children means desperation. We know what desperation can drive a head of the family to do when he sees his family starving," the senator added.
As of writing, the Senate has yet to receive the report from Malacañang. Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he expects to receive updates on the cash aid, mass testing in urban areas, and prioritization of safety and welfare of frontliners.
"We have incorporated into the Bayanihan Act everything needed by the people. It's now in the hands of the Executive department and the LGUs (local government units). The President is empowered to suspend or remove any local official who is not responding properly," Sotto said.
Guided by data
Senator Joel Villanueva raised the need for updates on the implementation of the expanded Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, as well as the additional funding allocation to government's aid to private and informal sector workers.
"The immediate roll-out of these programs should help stem the hunger that are already being felt by our people," Villanueva said. "We expect that the weekly report will contain statistics on the progress of the government's response, as well as the amount and corresponding utilization of the funds, so we can scrutinize and see where can we provide further assistance to our government," he added.
In a separate statement, Lacson said that the local governments should have already established a working database on the needs of its constituents. "Database, database, database is the answer," Lacson said.
While the National ID system is not yet fully in place, Lacson cited the case of Taguig City as an example of how a local government unit can "check which family needs what." He added: "In so doing, social and medical services come in handy. It is the local government that goes to their constituents instead of the other way around."
According to him, Taguig's database knows who would be needing wheelchairs, medicines, and other social services. "Without making any conclusion, never mind if the motivation for such services is political, as long as the social services are rendered efficiently and effectively, such endeavor is worth replicating," Lacson said.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One law was passed in record time, as Congress held marathon special sessions on Monday, March 23. (READ: Congress reins in Duterte's special budget powers)
Under the law, Duterte would have to implement items on health worker compensation and special hazard pay, emergency cash aid, and reallocation of funds in the 2019 and 2020 national budgets.
It will be effective for 3 months starting March 26, unless extended by Congress or lifted earlier through Congress' concurrent resolution or a presidential proclamation. – Rappler.com