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House passes emergency powers bill, twits Senate for slowing down special session

By Ellson Quismorio

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano couldn’t help but take jabs at the Senate following the House of Representative’s third reading passage of House Bill (HB) No.6616 late Monday night during an unprecedented special session wherein swift government action against the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis was the main theme.

The passage of the measure came after 14 grueling hours when House members began their digitally-aided session at around 10 a.m. on Monday.

House speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)

House speaker Alan Peter Cayetano

The bill seeks to grant President Duterte with special or emergency powers needed to hasten the government’s procurement of personal protective gear for front line health workers and much-needed respirators as well as for the possible takeover of private hospitals should the severity of the pandemic warrants it.

“Mahigit 300 tayo pero tapos na tayo actually by 2 o’clock [p.m. Monday] eh. Hinihintay lang natin ang Senado (We’re more or less 300 but we were actually finished by 2 o’clock p.m. Monday. We just waited for the Senate),” Cayetano said in his speech at past midnight.

The vote on third reading (284 affirmative, nine negative, zero abstentions) showed that up to 293 House members or congressmen were accounted for in the special session, which used videoconferencing and instant messaging.

The Senate, which only has two dozen members, reportedly had a late start in its own special session Monday due to difficulties in mustering a quorum.

House Majority Bloc member, Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor made a similar criticism against the senators in his speech as he underscored the urgency of the situation.

“If only we had voted [at once] and not waited for the Senate, then we would have a bill to help the President respond–tapusin ang problema, gawin ang kinakailangan–para sagutin ang problema ng coronavirus (to finish the problem, to do what is necessary to address the problem of the coronavirus),” he said on the plenary floor.

“Bakit ba tayo gumagawa ng bill na emergency powers? Kasi nga may emergency! (Why are we making a bill on emergency powers? Because there’s an emergency!)” Defensor said.

Cayetano also mentioned but did not identify a senator who undermined the need for HB No.6616, also known as the “Bayanihan Act of 2020.”

“Imagine a senator of the republic saying, ‘we need medicine, we need to help the front liners, we need provisions of food but we don’t need the special powers or emergency powers.’ Eh saan mo kukunin ang pera, the more than P275 billion na gagamitin? (Then where would you get the money, the more than P275 billion that would be used?)” he asked.

“It’s been a long but it’s been worth it. We’re going to face many, many long days in the coming weeks,” noted Cayetano, who represents Taguig-Pateros in the House.

The Speaker took exception to rumblings that the special session was carried out merely so that congressmen could enjoy publicity.

“Sabi nung iba (Some say), ‘they wanted publicity.’ We don’t need publicity. We were on TV the whole day. This is the Congress of the Philippines–anyone who speaks here, naka-live (it’s on live).”

He explained that grandstanding or showing off among lawmakers is the true measure of being publicity hogs.

“If we wanted the publicity, kinatay natin ‘tong bill na ‘to and every single advocacy ise-spell out natin hanggang sa maging singkapal na ng phone book (we could’ve mangled this bill and spelled out every single advocacy until we had something as thick as a phone book),” Cayetano said.

“If the Senate did it semi-that way, it’s up to them. But tayo po, simple eh (us, we made it simple).

“The national government asked for flexibility. They told us the plan. The plan is community quarantine. The plan is to keep people in their homes. The plan is to set up and support the present heath system and to grow it. The plan is to get supply in and the plan is to give the money,” he said. (Ellson A. Quismorio)

Source: Manila Bulletin

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