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House hits back at Senate: 'No personal interests' pushed in Bayanihan 2

Ranking congressmen were offended after senators “insinuated” that the House contingent pushed for their “personal interests” during the bicameral conference committee meetings on the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act.

The House still ratified the bicam report on Bayanihan 2 on Monday, August 24, but Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte first delivered a privilege speech to address the ongoing feud between the two chambers.

“Wala pong personal interes dito as insinuated by our counterparts. ‘Wag naman po sanang mag-insinuate ang ating mga kasama, dahil kasama naman po sila sa bicam eh,” Villafuerte said during the session.

(No personal interests were pushed here as insinuated by our counterparts. Our colleagues should not make insinuations because we were with them in the bicam.)

“Kung mayroon sila sa tingin na may maling provision na ‘di sang-ayon sa kanilang pananaw, eh sana sinabi po nila at pinag-debatehan po in a gentleman and more diplomatic, statesman manner,” added the Camarines Sur 2nd District congressman. 

(If they think there were provisions they actually disagreed with, then we should have debated on these in a gentlemanly and more diplomatic, statesman manner.)

The speech of Villafuerte – one of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano's closest allies in the House – comes 4 days after the Senate ratified the Bayanihan 2 bicam report. The exchanges between several senators during this session irked their counterparts in the House.

The root cause of this House-Senate spat was the P10-billion tourism budget under Bayanihan 2, one of the last items to be resolved by the bicam. 

The Senate originally set P10 billion for programs of the Department of Tourism, to assist micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) hit hard by the pandemic.

But the House placed its version’s P10-billion tourism budget under the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, which would have used the funds mostly for tourism infrastructure.

In the end, the bicam allocated P4 billion directly for the tourism industry, of which P1 billion would go to the Department of Public Works and Highways for tourism infrastructure projects. 

The remaining P3 billion would be given to the Department of Labor and Employment for assistance to displaced tourism industry workers.

Another P6 billion, meanwhile, would be lodged with the Department of Trade and Industry’s financing arm, Small Business Corporation, for assistance to MSMEs.

Villafuerte and House committee on public accounts chair Mike Defensor now want the unedited video recordings and transcripts of the bicam meetings to be publicized to reveal how the discussions transpired.

What happened during the August 20 Senate session?

On August 20, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri made a manifestation to thank his colleagues for fighting “tooth and nail” to keep the P10-billion tourism fund in Bayanihan 2. 

He then said it was “pure advocacy” for the Senate contingent to the bicam. Minutes later, Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked Zubiri to clarify his statement.

“When the majority leader says the [bicam members] were selfless in their proposals and advocacies and no agenda, whatsoever, you were merely talking about the Senate panel?” Sotto asked. 

Zubiri chuckled, but refused to directly answer Sotto’s question.

“No comment, Mr President. Basta kami sa Senado (But for us in the Senate), it was pure advocacy and it will be shown in the records and we fought it out well,” Zubiri said. 

It was at this point that Senator Pia Cayetano – the sister of Speaker Cayetano – slammed her colleagues for making insinuations about the congressional representatives. 

“I would like to point out that the insinuation that no one in the Senate pushed for anything for personal gain makes it appear that our counterparts in the House did…. I take offense na ang dami natin parinig na parang ‘yung sa kanila eh may personal gain (I take offense that you’re making these insinuations that for them, it’s all about personal gain),” Senator Cayetano said.

Time to 'move on'?

On Monday, Surigao del Norte 2nd District Representative Robert Ace Barbers delivered his own privilege speech in an apparent move to help defuse the tension between the House and the Senate. 

Barbers described Zubiri as a “good friend” and said the latter is “not the type [who] will [come] up [with] statements that will insult this House.”

“And being a former member, he knows exactly the dynamics and demands of having a direct constituency. Unfortunately, some members of the Senate never had the chance to experience this,” Barbers said. 

He believes senators did not intend to insult the House contingent to the bicam.

“Mr Speaker, I also do not believe our counterparts in the Senate meant to demean us, if indeed statements were made as alleged. I am sure that all the members of the bicam are well-meaning and pushed for this legislation devoid of all motives and personal interests,” Barbers  said.

After Barbers’ and Villafuerte’s speeches, several of their colleagues interpellated both of them in a bid to show how senators agreed to adopt several provisions that were originally introduced only in the House version of Bayanihan 2.

Still, it seems the lower chamber is willing to put water under the bridge, as Villafuerte told senators they should “move on” from this issue.

“Siguro may we request our counterparts na siguro, move on na tayo at kung puwede ma-discuss na ‘yang mga pending [na bills] sa kanila na makakatulong sa ating mga kababayan,” said Villafuerte.

(May we request our counterparts that perhaps, let’s move on and may they already discuss the bills that are pending with them and would help our countrymen.)

The Senate has yet to act on two economic stimulus packages already passed on final reading by the House: the P1.3-trillion package aimed at helping small businesses recover from the pandemic and a P1.5-trillion infrastructure spending package designed to generate jobs for Filipinos displaced by COVID-19. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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