Senate OKs P4.1T 2020 budget bill on third and final reading

Robie de Guzman   •   November 27, 2019   •   728

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Wednesday approved on third and final reading the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for the year 2020.

The budget bill hurdled the upper chamber after 22 senators voted for its passage with no negative votes or abstentions.

Among the amendments introduced by senators to the budget is a P32-billion increase for the fifth tranche of the Salary Standardization Law, an additional allocation of P6-billion for the Last Mile Schools Program, and P5.17 billion for the Voucher Program for Private Senior High School program of the Department of Education.

The budget for state universities and colleges was also increased as well as for the Philippine General Hospital.

The Senate also provided the Philippine Army with additional budget for the activation of an infantry division to directly address the threat of the Abu Sayyad Group in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. It also increased the budget allocation for the Defense department as well as the Philippine National Police for the anti-insurgency campaign.

The fiscal plan for 2020 was immediately passed by the Senate after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the measure as urgent.

The House of Representatives approved its version of the budget in September.

After the approval of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill, representatives from both chambers of Congress will convene in a bicameral conference committee in December to reconcile differences in the Senate and the House versions of the budget.

The reconciled version of the budget bill will then be sent to Duterte for his approval before the year ends. – RRD (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

Senate adjourns session sans passage of ‘Bayanihan Law 2’

Robie de Guzman   •   June 5, 2020

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)

Delayed cash assistance to fallen, sickened medical frontliners dismayed Senators

Marje Pelayo   •   June 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Medical frontliners who will get infected with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in line of duty starting February 1, 2020, are entitled to receive a compensation of P100,000.

Meanwhile, relatives of those who will die of the disease will receive P1-million, according to Section 4 of the Bayanihan to Heal as One-Act. 

But until now, none of the infected healthcare workers not even the relatives of those who succumbed to COVID-19 have received any amount from the government which dismayed several Senators.

According to Senator Sonny Angara, the Department of Health (DOH) failed to come up with implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Law that is why they were not able to distribute the said financial aid to the supposed beneficiaries.

The Senator insisted that the DOH should not use the absence of an IRR as an excuse for not complying with the law. 

“It is really criminal. This neglect to pass and to delay these types of benefits,” Angara said. 

“These people, we keep praising them as our heroes but yet, it’s just mere lip service if we don’t give them anything material,” he added.

Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, stressed that providing aid to frontliners sickened or killed in the line of duty especially at this pandemic is something unquestionable. 

“You don’t need Implementing Rules and Regulations here. The law is very clear. Why should we distinguish? They have already died,” Gordon said. 

“A little investigation will tell us that you can pay them because they died because they were in the frontlines! That’s a no-brainer,” he added. 

Gordon noted that the COVID-19 death toll among healthcare workers has already reached 32 while two others are now severely or critically ill. 

Senator Kiko Pangilinan also expressed his dismay and called the matter ‘unacceptable and unforgivable.’

“They have already died. They have already suffered, and we continue to allow them to suffer more because of this failure and inaction on the part of the Department of Health,” he said.

Because of this, Senate President Vicente Sotto III demanded the DOH to explain such delays in the compensation of fallen and sickened healthcare workers.

“It is definitely unacceptable. The answer is acceptable. They have to do it and they have to do it today,” Sotto said.

The DOH, however, is yet to respond to the matter. —MNP (with details from Harlene Delgado)

Senate OKs bill seeking stiffer penalties for perjury

Robie de Guzman   •   May 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, May 18 approved on third and final reading a bill that seeks to impose longer prison sentences and larger fines for individuals, especially public officials, who will commit perjury.

Voting 20-0, senators passed the Senate Bill No. 1354, which proposes to amend Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code and increase the current penalty on perjury from a range of the minimum period to medium period, or from six years and one day to 10 years of imprisonment.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the bill, said the proposed higher penalties were meant to deter people from committing perjury as they testify under oath in proceedings, such as legislative hearings, and to create a culture of truth-telling in government.

“In other words, you lie, you pay… Do not trifle with the truth,” he said in a statement.

Perjury, he explained, is committed by a person when he “knowingly makes untruthful statements and not being included in the provisions of the crimes of false testimony under judicial proceedings, shall testify under oath, or make an affidavit, upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law so requires.”

Under the existing law, persons guilty of perjury are only sentenced from four months and one day to two years and four months of imprisonment.

For public offcials or employees who would commit perjury, the penalty of imprisonment will be imposed in its maximum period, along with a fine of P1 million, as well as perpetual disqualification from holding any appointive or elective position in government, Gordon said.

Gordon believes that the bill would help address the issue of low conviction rates for people charged with perjury.

“As we uncovered during our committee hearing, a factor for the low cases is the low penalty imposed on the crime of perjury. The current penalty for perjury is subject to probation and the bail imposed is also low, roughly Php6,000 only. Given the high costs involved in prosecuting a crime, there is no motivation to prosecute the crime of perjury,” he said.

The bill was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima.

Its counterpart bill at the House of Representatives remains pending at the committee level.

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