House Defeat COVID-19 sub-committees formed

THE Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives has started forming various sub-committees in preparation for the implementation of the “economic relief” under the newly enacted “Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 respond to the coronavirus disease-19 pandemic, a House leader said on Monday.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, who sponsored the House-approved version of RA No. 11469 along with House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, said the ad hoc panel is set to meet online this week to complete the composition of the subcommittees.

“We have already started working and we will probably meet via online channels this week,” Villafuerte said of the committee chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and co-chaired by Romualdez.

“Under the committee, we will have sub-committees such as health, local government, disaster management, social services, labor and employment, and all other related committees for this COVID-19 crisis,” said Villafuerte, who is a member of the panel.

President Rodrigo  Duterte signed RA 11469 last March 24. Earlier, Villafuerte assured the public that the Congress would be exercising its oversight functions to ensure that all acts performed by the Duterte administration are within the bounds of the special but limited powers—and with restrictions—that the Congress has vested in President Duterte so his government could best respond to the pandemic.

The principal author in the House of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” pointed out that this measure requires the President to submit weekly reports to the Congress on all acts carried out by the Executive Department in the preceding week, in pursuit of government efforts to contain the spread of the virus and attend to infected people and those who had been exposed to them.

Alongside reporting all acts performed in the preceding week in pursuit of RA No. 11469, Villafuerte said the weekly reports to the Congress shall include the amount and corresponding utilization of the funds used, augmented, reallocated, realigned and reprogrammed under this law.

For this purpose, the Camarines Sur lawmaker said RA No. 11469 provides for the creation of a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee to determine whether such acts, orders, rules and regulations fall within the restrictions on such special powers as so provided by the law.

This oversight committee—to be composed of four senators and four House members—shall determine whether the acts, orders, rules and regulations carried out by the government are within the restrictions set by RA No. 11469, he added.

Villafuerte cited the Legislature’s oversight powers even as he assured the public there will be no abuse of the special powers granted to President Duterte under the proposed law.

In his sponsorship speech, Villafuerte explained that the proposed law would give the Chief Executive the needed “flexibility” to mobilize funds to provide relief to some 18 million Filipino households most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and for the treatment of infected persons and those who had been in close contact with them.

During the period of interpellation, Villafuerte said the peaceful implementation of martial law in Mindanao, where no abuses were reported, illustrates President Duterte's untarnished record in carrying out special powers granted to him by the Congress.

Villafuerte explained that the law will empower President Duterte to realign or reallocate about P275 billion in savings from budget and off-budget outlays to the government’s emergency subsidy program to provide relief to some 18 million Filipino households most affected by the coronavirus pandemic and for the treatment of infected persons and suspected cases.

“A major casualty of this virus is our resurgent economy, as the pandemic threatens to stop dead on its tracks the growth momentum that our country has been experiencing,” said Villafuerte in his sponsorship speech on House Bill (HB) 6616 during Monday’s special session of the House of Representatives.

“But other than the infected persons themselves and more than the domestic economy, the biggest casualty from the pandemic are, collectively, the poor and low-income Filipinos who have lost their jobs or sources of livelihood as a result of the lockdown in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, as well as in other communities elsewhere where local government units (LGUs) have likewise restricted personal movement in the hope of containing Covid-19,” he said.

Villafuerte said the lockdowns in Luzon and elsewhere have shoved the national and local economies almost to a standstill, thereby dislocating an estimated 18 million Filipino families who live by the no-work, no-pay system.

He said P200 billion will be allotted for the emergency program for the 18 million households, while the balance of P75 billion will go to health-related initiatives and other services.