Senator Risa Hontiveros, the lone member of the Senate who voted against “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” explained on a lengthy Facebook post why she decided to oppose it while most of her colleagues supported it.
Hontiveros questioned if the people will really receive the money being planned to allocate by the government to fight the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines.
According to her, the measure gives the President “near-absolute control over public funds in national government agencies and even government-owned and controlled corporations,” that may be subject to abuse and corruption.
“The President’s new powers would authorize him to now stop altogether important government projects and divert their funding to other uses, with little check and balances in place. Paano ngayon mamomonitor ng taumbayan ang paggamit ng napakalaking mga pondo na ito, at paano tayo makakasiguro na ito nga ay napupunta sa paglaban sa COVID-19? Ano ang garantiya na hindi mapupunta ang kaban ng bayan sa mga negosyante o Chinese companies na malapit sa administrasyon?” Hontiveros said.
“We cannot and should not blindly trust the use of these important funds to a government, which during this health crisis, has chosen to spend P14 billion on tourism projects, but has been unable to immediately and sufficiently deliver PPEs to our doctors, health workers, law enforcement agents, and other frontliners,” she added.
The lady Senator cited several laws that could prove that giving special powers to the President was unnecessary.
“The Executive Branch does not need special powers for it to act urgently and decisively in meeting the immediate needs of the people amid the COVID-19 outbreak. While I am grateful that my amendment for the provision of cash transfers to poor Filipino families was included in the bill, even this provision does not require the grant of new powers. Our arsenal of readily-available laws and policies, notably the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184), the Price Act (RA 7582) and the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act (RA 11332), has not been fully utilized in the fight versus COVID-19.” she said.
“These laws, if partnered with a supplemental budget, already authorize the government to purchase ample personal protective equipment (PPEs), medical supplies, relief packages, and other needed items, secure that prices of basic goods will remain affordable, and impose preventive community-wide measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, among others. I know because these were part of my proposals during the start of this crisis – a crisis that the government underestimated at the beginning,” she added.
Hontiveros believes that mass COVID-19 testing, giving PPEs and hazard pay to the frontliners is already enough to solve the problem and not the special powers being given to the President.
“Hindi special powers ang sagot sa pandemic na ito, kundi political will para isulong ang mass-testing, ibigay ang PPEs at hazard pay sa mga frontliners, at ihatid ang cash assistance sa mga mahihirap na pamilya at nawalan ng kita. Bakit special powers na ang hinihingi habang hindi pa tuluyang nagamit ang kasalukuyang mandato at kapangyarihan na mayroon ang Pangulo?” she stated.
“Ang hinihingi ng publiko ay klarong programa laban sa krisis na dulot ng COVID-19. Sana ay iwasan natin ang isa pang krisis na maaring dalhin sa taumbayan ng korapsyon at pang-aabuso sa kapangyarihan ng pamahalaan.” she added.
Hontiveros vowed to “closely watch” the activities of the executive department to prevent any attempts of the President to misuse his special powers.
“These expanded powers should translate to actually help to our vulnerable sectors, such as cash assistance to poor families and hazard pay to frontliners. With these new powers at Malacañang’s command, they have no excuse to let our people down,” she said.
Yesterday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III was saddened by Hontiveros’ decision to oppose the Bayanihan Act.
“Nakakalungkot isipin na kahit kailangan tulungan ang hirap na 18M Filipinos at mga Frontline health workers, meron Pa rin nakuhang bumoto ng contra!” Sotto said.
19 senators voted in favor of the Bayanihan Act.