Lagman: No need for Congress to hold special session

AN opposition solon stressed that there is no need for the Congress to hold a special session since the main problem nowadays is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus and treating the infected patients are within the realm of medical science; in the domain of public health authorities and medical professionals; and under the jurisdiction of the Executive.

According to Lagman if the purpose of the special session is to approve supplemental budget to provide funds for the government then the available funds under the 2020 national budget can be utilized.

The 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) has adequate funds, for the time being, to address the health crisis without prior congressional authorization.

Funds available in the GAA include, the P13-billion President’s Contingent Fund which has still a balance of not less than P12-billion.

Another source is the P16-billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF), formerly known as the Calamity Fund, for “aid, relief and rehabilitation services to communities/areas affected by human-induced and natural calamities”, which verily covers the calamitous COVID-19.

Only the President’s approval is required for the utilization of both the Contingent Fund and NDRRMF, Lagman pointd out.

Lagman also enumerated that Department of Health (DoH)  has a P600-million quick response fund which has been partly used in the Taal relief operations, but subsequently replenished from the NDRRMF; Department of Labor and Employment has P9.5-billion for the “social protection for vulnerable workers”; Department of Social Welfare and Development has its own P1.250-billion quick response fund which can also be replenished, in addition to multi-billion funds for social amelioration including unconditional cash transfers; Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has P1.5-billion under the “Pondo at Pagbabago at Pagasenso”; and Department of Agriculture  has P500-million “survival and recovery loan and assistance program” and a P1.5-billion quick response fund.     In addition to the funds lodged in the GAA, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) have committed P2-billion and P1-billion, respectively, for the anti-COVID-19 campaign.

The P2-billion contribution from PAGCOR is even more than the P1.6-billion supplemental budget recommended by the Committee on Appropriations which was stalled because the National Treasurer declined to give the requisite certificate of availability of funds due to the available funds in the GAA and public and private contributions.

“The Congress of the Philippines cannot defeat or subdue the deadly COVID-19 pandemic by legislation even if it holds a special session upon the call of the President purportedly to stop the virus’ escalation as part of the agenda,” Lagman said.

“No parliament of any country now fighting the pandemic has attempted to enact a law stamping out the virus just like an improbable prohibition of typhoons and other calamities,” he added.

When the Congress resumes sessions starting on May 4, 2020, a well-studied and fully-deliberated supplemental budget to fund an economic stimulus to assist affected citizens, workers and businesses can be enacted together with necessary replenishments of disbursed funds from the GAA to respond to the crisis, Lagman said.