Senate adjourns session sans passage of ‘Bayanihan Law 2’

Robie de Guzman   •   June 5, 2020   •   669

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate has adjourned sine die its first regular session in the 18th Congress without passing the proposed “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III adjourned the session on Thursday afternoon, without approving on final reading the Senate Bill No. 1564 that would provide for the Philippines’ coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response and recovery plan.

Before adjourning the session, senators held a caucus as they waited for the urgent certification from Malacañang to allow the swift approval of the measure.

However, President Rodrigo Duterte did not certify the bill as urgent as announced later by his spokesperson, Harry Roque.

Senate Bill 1564 seeks to extend until September the validity of the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which grants the president special powers to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is an emergency measure which will expire once the Congress adjourns sine die.

Under the law, all provisions under an emergency measure cease to be valid upon the next adjournment of Congress.

According to Senator Panfilo Lacson, once the Bayanihan to Heal as One law lapses and the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act is not passed, the national government will no longer be compelled to give cash aid.

“Mawawala ang emergency powers. Lahat ng provision sa Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, balewala na ‘yan kasi time bound ‘yan,” he said during an online interview with reporters before the resumption of Thursday’s session.

“Kung hindi mapapasa ito, ang mga kababayan natin na ‘di nakakatanggap ng tulong, ang maasahan lang nila kung ano ang ibibigay ng Executive Branch na available pero hindi sila mama-mandate ng batas na magbigay ng ayuda,” he added.

The Senate on Wednesday passed on second reading the proposed ‘Bayanihan to Recover as One Act but it did not reach the third and final reading due to the three-day rule in passing legislation. An urgent certification from the Palace would have expedited the passage of the measure.

Under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, the allocation of a P140-billion standby fund is proposed to help sectors and industries heavily-hit by the pandemic. It also seeks to provide funds for the procurement of additional COVID-19 testing equipment as well as the implementation of assistance programs for displaced workers, low-income households and other sectors.

Congress will open the second regular session in July. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senators seek third hearing on government’s COVID-19 vaccine plan

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Several Senators seek a third hearing to further discuss the national government’s COVID-19 vaccine plan.

The Senate Committee of the Whole may call for another public hearing on the government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Senator Franklin Drilon, in a statement, said the two-day inquiry left more questions than answers.

“There are still a number of issues hanging. These too many unanswered questions raise grave concerns, for the survival of the country largely depends on our ability to implement a successful vaccination program against the COVID-19 virus,” he said.

Drilon noted that the pricing, the sourcing of the vaccines, the delivery schedules, and the logistical support plan are several of the urgent questions needed to be answered.

“We did not get any definite answers to these serious questions. I believe another round of hearing is in order. I support the call of Sen. Panfilo Lacson for more hearings,” he added. –AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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Pangilinan called on DOH to reconsider Sinovac purchases

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan called on the Department of Health to reconsider its order to purchase China’s Sinovac vaccine.

In a statement, the Senator noted the results of a new study in Brazil which showed Sinovac yielding a 50.4% efficacy rate. He also noted the vaccine price is steeper compared to the other vaccines with a higher efficacy rate.

“Sinovac, with just over 50 percent efficacy, is six times more expensive than AstraZeneca, which in contrast shows a 70-percent efficacy. Sinovac is more expensive yet it has the lowest efficacy. Given these latest findings, we call on the DOH to cancel the purchase of said vaccines,” he said.

Panginilan added that the country should procure vaccines on the basis of both higher efficacy and lower cost.

Based on data, Pfizer and BioNTech has an efficacy rate 95% and cost P2,379, Gamaleya is at 92% with a P1,220 price, and AstraZeneca is at 70% costing P610. Sinovac, meanwhile, costs P3,629.50.

The Philippines has secured 25 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech, with the first 50,000 expected to arrive in February.

Meanwhile, the Senate Committee of the Whole is scheduled to convene again on Friday, January 15, to further discuss the country’s vaccination program. -AAC

COVID-19 vaccination hearing on Jan. 11 will not include the PSG — Sotto

Marje Pelayo   •   January 5, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate hearing on the government’s vaccination plan will push through on Monday (January 11) but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the probe will not include members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Despite this, several senators maintained that it is the responsibility and mandate of Congress to conduct a probe in aid of legislation that will benefit the people.

Sotto, who heads the Senate Committee of the Whole, said the probe will focus on the government’s P72.5 billion budget for the vaccination plan against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and not anymore on the PSG’s use of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines.

“He is misinformed. I’m the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole as Senate President. The topic of my hearing is the roadmap for the P72.5 B for vaccines. Who in heaven’s name told him I’m calling for PSG? I think the President is being misled,” Sotto said in a statement.

Sotto believes the President was misinformed because the PSG was not really part of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he acknowledges the President’s executive privilege to bar the PSG from attending the probe.

“To investigate in aid of legislation is also a valid exercise of legislative power.  There is no preventing Congress from eliciting information in aid of legislation from other resource persons. Congress can exact information on matters that can help it craft better legislation,” he said.

He noted, however, that the Chief Executive should not stop Congress from doing its mandate.

“The Senate should continue with the hearing, especially in the light of the revelation that 100,000 POGO workers were inoculated in the country. That is illegal. In aid of legislation, the Senate must elicit information from other sources on how to strengthen the FDA and the Bureau of Customs to prevent similar episodes in the future,” Drilon said.

For his part, Senator Richard Gordon said it was wrong of the President to warn Congress considering they are a co-equal branch of government.

He added that though he recognizes PSG’s loyalty to him, still no one is above the law.

“Well, that’s unfortunate because I think he’s wrong. The president has got to respect the separation of powers clause,” Gordon said.

“To shackle the Senate or the Congress into not doing what it is supposed to do is I think a wrong thing to do for the president,” he added.

Amid the issue, Gordon still wants to know who supplied that vaccine administered to the PSG and how the group received the unauthorized vaccines.

He said the senators will sit on a caucus to discuss if they will raise the matter in the investigation.

“Bakit nila tinatago? Is somebody laying the predicate here for the Chinese medicine to be pushed? Because lumabas na ngayon 300-200 Chinese na ang inoculate,” Gordon said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, stressed that it is the Senate’s responsibility to scrutinize and put in order any negligence on the part of the Executive branch.

“Kung hindi pa handa at nagkakanya kanya at iba iba ang direksyon ng mga ahensya ng Executive branch, responsibilidad at tungkulin ng Senado magsilbing check and balance at busisiin ito at subukan ilagay sa ayos ang anumang kakulangan o kapabayaan na nagaganap sa kilos ng mga kinaukulan,” Pangilinan said.

This issue is not a matter to be ignored, according to Senator Risa Hontiveros particularly the report that some POGO workers were also inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines without the proper authorization.

“Hindi pwedeng ipagsawalang kibo ng pamahalaan ang napabalitang paggamit ng 100,000 POGO workers ng smuggled at unauthorized vaccine,” the opposition senator said.

“Bakit ba ang nangunguna pa yatang kunsintidor ng kontrabando ay ang sarili pa nating gobyerno?” she added.

To date, Sotto’s committee has yet to finalize the list of resource persons to be invited to the probe on Monday. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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