Senators under fire over Bayanihan 2

CERTAIN senators have come under heavy fire in the House of Representatives for their supposed antics in taking turns shaming the consolidated bill on the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 that they have just ratified in what House leaders reckon to be  “showboating in aid of reelection.”

Deputy Speaker and Laguna Rep. Dan Fernandez questioned why Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and other senators are now scoffing at the consolidated Bayanihan 2 bill when the chamber’s contingent to the bicameral (bicam) conference committee had given its nod to this measure, leading to its ratification by the Senate last Thursday.

The House is set to ratify the Bayanihan 2 bill when it resumes session on Aug. 24. After the bill’s ratification by both chambers, the consolidated Bayanihan 2 will then be submitted to Malacañang for President Duterte’s approval and enactment into law.

“If our high and mighty senators feel that the consolidated Bayanihan 2 bill was not up to their standards, then why did they approve it during the bicam talks?” he stressed. “The truth is a majority of the good features of Bayanihan 2 were actually introduced by the House and were only adopted by the Senate.” "These senators appear conflicted. They want to make it appear that they did their part in passing Bayanihan 2, obviously to worm their way into the good graces of an overwhelming majority of our people who support President Duterte and are appreciative of his administration’s comprehensive COVID-19 response measures, but they are at the same time distancing themselves from the bill, obviously to please the ragtag band of anti-government critics,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said he took offense at the insinuations made by Zubiri and some other senators that the House had supposedly fought for "a particular personal interest" and that it was only the Senate that had pushed for certain provisions out of their so-called "pure advocacy."

Contrary to the illusions of these senators who claim to have acted on “pure advocacy”, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor said the House had actually come up with the superior version of the Bayanihan 2 bill, as shown by the fact that some 40 major provisions of the final version of this measure were actually introduced by the House contingent and merely adopted by its Senate counterpart during the three-day marathon deliberations.

"My suggestion is to authorize the secretariat to release the minutes of the sessions of the bicam talks so the public would know who had presented the majority of the major provisions in the final Bayanihan 2 bill and who among the bicam members had actually been lobbying actively for which interest groups during the entire discussions to
come up with the consolidated version,” Defensor said.

If one were to read the minutes of the deliberations, he/she said it would show that the members of the House contingent were fair and objective during the discussions on some of the contentious provisions of Bayanihan 2.

Such contentious issues included the House proposal to allocate P10 billion for the infrastructure projects of the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), which senators wanted retained in their version as direct funding support for the tourism industry through the Department of Tourism (DOT) in the form of soft loans earmarked for this particular or specific sector.

“What the senators, the DOT officials and the big industry groups like the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) had wanted was a travesty because, first, the DOT has no legal authority to administer loans for tourism establishments or groups, and, second, it contravened the position of the Department of Finance (DOF) that there should be no earmarking of funds for particular sectors and that the funds should be coursed through GFIs (government financial institutions),” he said.

Hence, Defensor said, the funds intended as soft loans for micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) and other groups like the tourism and transport sectors were, in the bicam-approved version, coursed through the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Small Business Corporation (SBC) and Philippine Guarantee Corporation (PHILGUARANTEE).

He noted that the House had pushed for the P10 billion TIEZA allocation in the bicam talks because of infrastructure investment's high multiplier effects on the economy and as an immediate solution to the problem of providing jobs to many of the tourism industry’s 5.7 million workers who have lost their jobs temporarily or permanently as a result of the economic crisis triggered by the global pandemic.

"Some senators have developed this mindset that they are somewhat superior to members of the House, when in fact, we are co-equal members of the Congress. They haughtily see themselves on a pedestal, even if many of them or their peers have also served as House members before being elected to the Senate. No one is on a pedestal here. All of us were elected and are tasked to serve the people. Wag kayong magmagaling," Defensor said.

He mentioned Senators Zubiri, Sonny Angara, Imee Marcos, Manny Pacquiao, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gatchalian and Ralph Recto who first represented their respective legislative districts in the House before being elected to the Senate.

“Some senators fancy themselves to be the better legislators and look at us members of the House with condescension, and yet throw caution to the wind and desperately woo our support in our respective congressional bailiwicks come election time,” Defensor said.

Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado pointed out that the alleged unethical behavior of some senators during their Thursday session did not sit well with Senator Cayetano, who berated her colleagues for insinuating that the House had an ulterior motive in pushing for the P10-billion TIEZA fund in the Bayanihan 2 bill.

According to media reports, Cayetano said she did not find it "funny" when some senators made such insinuations on the floor, even if it was supposed to be meant as a joke because "these people mean well, they want to also take care of our constituents the way we also wanted to."

Alvarado said among the key provisions introduced by the House that were eventually adopted by the bicam panel in the final version of Bayanihan 2 are the following:

Granting the authority to reprogram and realign funds to fund purchase of personal protective equipment (PPEs), establishment of isolation facilities, field hospitals, vaccines/cure, testing, and subsidy for COVID-19 positive patients; • Authority for local government units (LGUs) to realign local funds
for COVID-19 response;

• Retroactive application as of Feb. 1  of the P100,000 hazard duty pay for healthworkers and P1 million to be provided to the heirs of every health worker in case of COVID-related death;

• Directing the use of unutilized portions of the Municipal Development Fund for COVID-19 response;

• Allowing the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)  through a memorandum of agreement  (MOA) to transfer funds to LGUs for assistance programs;

• 60-day grace period for payment of loans;

• Removal of the initial public offering (IPO) tax;

• Two-year exemption from compulsory notification for mergers and acquisitions with transaction values below P50 billion and one-year exemption from motu proprio investigations;

• Creation of a national online electronic application system accessible to everyone in each LGU to provide contact tracing capacity;
• Exemption from import duties for PPE to be determined by the Bureau of Customs  (BOC) and Bureau of Internal Revenue  (BIR), provided that local preference is ensured;

• Allowing use of unutilized or unreleased balance in special purpose funds for COVID-19 response; and

• Mandating the priority lending for MSMEs, cooperatives, hospitals, tourism industry, and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) through GFIs.