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The unfolding output of the one-day special session in the House of Representatives is the grant of more emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to combat COVID-19 as he requested in the Malacañang-crafted H.B. No. 6616, even as the validity of the virtual session and electronic voting of the House of Representatives is in legal limbo as no prior amendment was properly effected under the existing Rules of the House.

Authorizing the President with extraordinary powers was in lieu of a supplemental budget or an economic stimulus package to ameliorate affected citizens and displaced workers and bail out distressed businesses, particularly micro and small enterprises.

The grant of extraordinary budgetary powers to the President to restructure or re-engineer the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) surrenders the Congress’ constitutional power of the purse to the Executive even as it allows the President to transfer funds in violation of Section 25 of Article VI of the Constitution which unequivocally prohibits the enactment of a law authorizing transfer of funds.

Under House Bill No. 6616, the President is authorized to cause the (a) “cancellation of appropriated programs, projects or activities” to “generate (forced) savings”, and (b) “reprogram, reallocate, and realign any allocations in the FY 2020 GAA for whatever purpose the President may deem necessary and desirable to fund measures to address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency.”

The aforesaid provisions give the President vast and unrestricted powers to cancel, reprogram and reallocate budgeted funds in the entire government to the extent of allowing him to repeal allocations in the GAA as he may personally consider necessary.

Granting the President additional emergency powers exacerbates the fears of citizens and businesses considering the abuse and misuse of extraordinary powers in the past.

House Bill No. 6616 contains numerous surplusages like the following:

  1. There are sufficient response funds in the 2020 GAA to combat COVID-19 which are readily implementable without need of realignment even as the existing funds include pro-poor and social amelioration allocations lodged in the 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 other national agencies, which can be used to address the public health emergency. These funds are topped by the President’s Contingent Fund of P13-billion, which is barely touched.

    In fact, HB No. 6616 does not provide for a supplemental budget.

  2. The President is already authorized to use savings in the Executive Department and to augment deficient appropriations through such savings as provided for in Sec. 66 of the GAA’s General Provisions.

  3. There is no need to restate pertinent extant laws like those against profiteering and hoarding and the exceptions from the procurement process as already provided for in R.A. No. 9184 (The Government Procurement Reform Act).

  4. There is no necessity for any special legislation to assure ample supply of coronavirus test kits, protective personnel equipment (PPE), other medical equipment, and drugs and medicines, and to prioritize activities in dealing with the health emergency which are best left to the sound judgement of medical authorities.

What is needed is the enactment of a well-prepared supplemental budget, which must be adopted after the resumption of sessions starting May 4, 2020, to:

  1. Adequately fund an economic stimulus package to ameliorate affected citizens and displaced workers, and provide relief to distressed businesses, particularly micro and small industries; and

  2. Fully replenish the necessary amounts disbursed to respond to the pandemic from the funds originally appropriated to the concerned national agencies.