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.
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.
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.
Consequently, there is no need for a special session to tackle this implausible agenda.
If the purpose of the special session is to approve a supplemental budget to provide funds for the government’s campaign against COVID-19 meanwhile that the Congress is on its Lenten break, then again, a special session is not needed because the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) has adequate funds, for the time being, to address the health crisis without prior congressional authorization.
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.
Funds available in the GAA include, to start with, the P13-billion President’s Contingent Fund which has still a balance of not less than P12-billion.
Containing COVID-19 and attending to patients are within the purview of the Contingent Fund which “shall cover the funding requirements of new or urgent projects and activities”.
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.
While some rehabilitation projects have been earmarked for funding support from the NDRRMF, the corresponding funds have not been released and can be put on hold to prioritize response to the pandemic.
Only the President’s approval is required for the utilization of both the Contingent Fund and NDRRMF.
Concerned Departments like the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Department of Agriculture (DA), among others, have their own funds under the GAA to address the crisis.
DOH has a P600-million quick response fund which has been partly used in the Taal relief operations, but subsequently replenished from the NDRRMF; DOLE has P9.5-billion for the “social protection for vulnerable workers”; DSWD 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; DTI has P1.5-billion under the “Pondo at Pagbabago at Pagasenso”; and DA 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.
Moreover, donations from giant corporations, leading Filipino entrepreneurs, and foreign countries have been pouring in.
The scrapping of the projected special session, which is not of critical immediacy, will foreclose lengthy debates on suspending or amending the Rules of the House even without a quorum to “legitimize” a virtual plenary session and long-distance voting.
EDCEL C. LAGMAN