Hontiveros seeks audit on government’s use of funds, special powers under ‘Bayanihan’ Law

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has called for an audit on how the executive branch used the funds and the special powers granted by Congress to boost the government’s response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Hontiveros stressed the need for audit as Congress “surrendered” its power of the purse to the president under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“Dahil sa Bayanihan Act ay isinuko na ng Kongreso ang kaniyang ‘power of the purse.’ Kaya kailangang bantayang maigi kung saan napupunta ang pera,” she said, adding that the audit should be conducted before passing the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill.

Hontiveros said that despite the passage of the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan Law granting emergency powers to the President, the government has failed to meet its health and economic relief targets, as evidenced by massive backlogs, slow contact tracing efforts, and delays in the release of test results to persons under quarantine or monitoring.

“We should have established sufficient infrastructure and mustered enough human resources to adequately respond to this health crisis. However, this is clearly not the case,” she said.

“Apat na buwan na ang nakakaraan. Bilyon-bilyon ang pondo na nasa kamay ng pamahalaan at malawak ang kapangyarihan na ibinigay natin sa Pangulo. Pero hanggang ngayon, wala pa rin tayong pinangako nilang 30,000 tests per day. Hindi rin malinaw kung na-flatten na ba ang curve ng pandemiya,” she added.

Hontiveros also called out the Department of Health’s “failure” to present to public comprehensive, reliable and accurate data on the pandemic.

“Naguguluhan na ang publiko at mismong policy makers sa ibinibigay na datos. Biglang may “fresh cases,” at may new cases pero old na raw. For government to produce the right policies, we have to have the right data in our hands,” she said.

She also criticized DOH for purchasing allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment and testing kits as revealed.

“Paano natin mapagkakatiwalaan ang gobyerno na gamitin sa maayos ang pera ng bayan kung may mga taong walang konsensiyang pinagkakakitaan ang pandemyang ito?” she said.

The lawmaker also questioned the government’s move to ease quarantine restrictions and allow select employees to go back to work when it is still unclear if the epidemic curve has been flattened.

“Now that we have shifted to GCQ (general community quarantine) and asked them to go back to work without mass testing and mandatory and demandable safety at work protocols, we are putting their lives at risk,” she said.

Hontiveros said the government should address these “major flaws” in the system as the country transitions to a new normal.

“Health and economic safeguards must be put in place before we send them out to what is now called the new normal. Let our rallying cry be: Save lives, save jobs,” she said.

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