Drilon says special powers subject to audit rules, anti-graft law

Jove Moya

SENATE Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday, March 24, said the special powers granted to President Rodrigo Duterte are still subject to audit rules and anti-graft laws.

"Nais kong bigyang diin na hindi ibig sabihin na isasantabi na natin ang ating auditing rules, ang safeguards, ang anti-graft laws. Hindi po binabalewala iyan," Drilon said in an interview over the radio.

"It does not mean that we will set aside Commission of Audit rules and our anti-graft law. Kapag hindi natin sinunod ito ay may pananagutan pa rin tayo," he warned.

The Senate and the House of Representatives approved in the early hours of Tuesday their respective bills declaring a state of national emergency arising from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

The Senate version, Senate Bill 1418 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act), was adopted by the House of Representatives as an amendment to House Bill 6616 (We Heal As One Act) before dawn Tuesday.

The proposed bill will allow the President to reallocate the available funds under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) from non-essential to essential items to address the pandemic.

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, for his part, said he would have voted “yes” to the bill but with “serious reservations.”

Pangilinan said his fellow lawmakers limited the President’s powers to 90 days and an extension will require approval from the Congress.

“My colleagues in the Senate, and with our submitted written amendments, took away those dangerous provisions, particularly the government’s prerogative to take over companies (except to direct the operation of health facilities and passenger vessels) while the Covid-19 crisis rages,” he said.

Pangilinan said the Senate version will enable mass testing, support to frontliners, and allocation of cash to the vulnerable.

“In a major way, in the Senate version, we were able to exert our influence on the Executive on how the crisis must be addressed -- not in the haphazard, confusing, and damaging way that it has so far faced this life-and-death situation,” Pangilinan said.

Both bills seek to provide monthly emergency subsidy to 18 million families, including the 4.4 million conditional cash transfer beneficiaries. Under the approved version, each family will receive P5,000 to P8,000 per month for two months.

The Senate version will also prioritize the distribution of medical supplies and the augmentation of health budget, limit the President’s power to realign funds to “savings” within the Executive branch, grant grace periods for loans and rental payments, among others.

It shall also exempt from import taxes the importation of equipment and supplies needed for Covid-19 response, grant P100,000 or P1 million to public and private health workers who may contract or die from Covid-19, and require the President to report to Congress weekly all acts performed pursuant to the Act.

Pangilinan also said the bill will remove from the President the delegation of penal powers and specifies punishable acts under the law, and clarify that the Constitution prevails over any provision of the law.

“These sweeping revisions would not have been possible without the inspiring effort of concerned Filipinos who voiced their opposition to the original version via the email and social media accounts of their legislators,” said Pangilinan.

“We will call them out should we see that the law and funding we have put in place are not being implemented as envisioned. Beginning today and until the day we have defeated this virus, we would urge and call out the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and this administration to ensure that the law is effectively implemented, and the health and welfare of our citizens are protected and upheld,” the senator said.

For Senator Risa Hontiveros, the President no longer needs executive powers.

“I voted no because it grants the President unchecked powers that are open to abuse and coruption. It also gives him a virtual blank check with no clear plan or strategy to defeat Covid-19,” Hontiveros said.

“In the measure the President has near-absolute control over public funds in national government agencies and GOCCs,” she added.

Hontiveros feared that the power would only authorize Duterte to stop important government projects and divert their funding to other uses.

“Paano ngayon mamo-monitor ng taumbayan ang pag-gamit ng napakalaking mga pondo na ito? Ano ang garantiya na hindi mapupunta ang kaban ng bayan sa negosyante o Chinese companies na malapit sa administrasyon?” Hontiveros stressed.

Both Pangilinan and Hontiveros were not allowed to vote on the measure because he was on a 14-day quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure.

Senate rules require physical presence for a senator to be able to vote in plenary debates.

Based on the Senate website, 20 senators were in favor of the bill. But the official vote was only 12 affirmative, which came from senators who were physically present.

Pangilinan said the 8 “votes” were from senators who were asked how they would have voted had they been present on the floor. (SunStar Philippines)