Senate session adjourns without passing Bayanihan 2

The Senate adjourned on Thursday, June 4, without approving the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill, as President Rodrigo Duterte did not certify the measure as urgent.

Passed on second reading, Senate Bill 1564 or the Bayanihan 2 bill was supposed to extend the validity of coronavirus programs and interventions laid out under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The chamber's plenary session started at 2 pm on Thursday, with Senator Bong Go delivering a privilege speech, slamming the delayed release of compensation to health workers infected with coronavirus.

Apart from Go's speech, the only other business for Thursday was the 3rd and final reading of the Bayanihan 2 bill. Session had to be suspended for two hours as the chamber awaited Malacañang's word if the measure would be certified urgent.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri to "find out" whether Malacañang would issue such certification. "'Are you certifying or not?'" Sotto asked Zubiri to tell Malacañang.

Earlier, Malacañang said it wanted Congress to extend the Bayanihan Act. A certification from the President would allow the legislature to do away with the rule of having a 3-day interval between the second and 3rd reading. 

Session resumed at around 5 pm without receiving any certification from the Palace. Shortly after adopting Senate Concurrent Resolution 11 on ending the first regular session, the chamber adjourned sine die.

What will happen to Bayanihan Act? Withour Bayanihan 2, the emergency powers under RA 11469 will lapse on Friday, June 5.

Article VI Section 23(2) of the Constitution states that emergency powers granted by Congress to the President will cease once session adjourns.

The House of Representatives will still hold a plenary session on Friday at 10 am. Once the lower chamber adjourns sine die, Bayanihan Act will also lapse.

Sotto on Tuesday, June 2, said that if the Bayanihan 2 bill wouldn't be certified as urgent, then the chamber would "leave the executive department to their plans."

What about the aid programs? Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told Rappler that programs would continue even as the Bayanihan Act expires because funds were already released.

"Opo. Once released, tuloy-tuloy lang po 'yan kahit mag-expire na ang batas po," Avisado said. (Yes, the programs will still continue. Once [the budget] has been released, it will continue even if the law expires.)

With the law's expiration, the executive will no longer have to submit weekly reports on the implementation of the Bayanihan Act to lawmakers.

Senator Panfilo Lacson raised concerns about the release of cash aid to low-income households, workers, and micro, small, and medium enterprises. 

"'Yan ang mahirap. Ako mismo alinlangan ako dahil sa [ilalim ng] unang Bayanihan na mag-e-expire bukas, hindi lahat nabigyan," he said in a media interview. (That's the problem. Even I have concerns about it because, under the first Bayanihan Act that will expire tomorrow, not everyone was given aid.)

What may happen in the future? The President may call for a special session during sine die, if he deems fit that another Bayanihan Act-like measure is needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, the language of the Bayanihan 2 bill, even if it adopted the 30 special powers under RA 11469, didn't make any references to emergency authority.

There also seemed to be a disagreement on the amount of the "standby fund" under SB 1564. The Department of Finance reiterated its position, said Lacson, that the government can only fund P130 billion in any special appropriations. The specificied amount under the bill was at P140 billion.

If the President decides not to call for a special session, then lawmakers will have to wait for late July to pass the bill, when Congress reopens for the second regular session. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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