In the first session day for the year 2020 held last Monday at exactly 3:00 p.m., it was announced that House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano shall address the House Members for an important announcement. The Speaker took the podium even before the calling of the roll and began with a biblical verse.
He reminded the House members of the goal of the 18th Congress of establishing a reliable, relevant, and responsive House of the People (or “HoPe”) to dispel the notion of citizens loving their own congressman but hating Congress. He challenged everyone to come up with long-lasting legislation to provide a safe and comfortable life for all Filipinos. And he said it is time for congressmen to listen to the actual needs of our countrymen, particularly those affected by the eruption of the Taal Volcano. Laying this as basis, he proposed the holding of a session at the province affected by this natural calamity, Batangas City, today, Wednesday, 22 January.
To formalize this, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez moved for convening a session, as a Committee of the Whole, on Wednesday at the Batangas City Convention Center, which was unanimously approved by the House members. And so here comes another first, another historic milestone, for the 18th Congress. For the first time, a session will be held in a venue outside of Constitution Hills, right where Filipinos need government aid and its public officials the most.
The intention of this admirable decision is to ‘listen’ to the people, as opposed to the Congressmen talking and speculating on what-ifs in a far and secluded place. There will neither be an investigation on the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), nor an approval of a supplemental budget as additional aid since this would require Senate concurrence. If any, the Committee of the Whole shall be empowered to fast track legislation, specifically the passage of the bill proposing for the establishment of the Department of Disaster Resilience, one of the priority bills of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
After the approval of the motion last Monday, lawmakers from Batangas took to the plenary floor their message for and on behalf of Batangueños victimized by the Taal Volcano unrest. Deputy Speaker Vilma Santos-Recto (6th District, Batangas), Deputy Majority Leader Lianda Bolilia (4th District, Batangas), and Deputy Majority Leader Ma. Theresa Collantes (3rd District, Batangas) appealed for continuing help for the people of Batangas as they thanked everyone who immediately gave assistance to the victims of Taal’s unrest.
In her privilege speech, Santos-Recto expressed her gratitude to the government leaders and agencies as well as the private sector for their continuing assistance to the Batangueños gravely affected by the Taal Volcano eruption. While she acknowledged that there are already 448 evacuation centers within and outside Batangas serving around 41,000 households, Santos-Recto stressed that “There is a need to establish permanent evacuation centers. These centers must be equipped with capabilities and facilities to respond to and serve the needs of our people.”
For her part, Bolilia lauded the resilience of her constituents despite their gruesome experience. She said, “I would like to say that my fellow Batangueños are incredibly inspirational to all of us.
Taal Volcano’s wrath has not damaged the legendary Batangueño spirit and, just like the volcano, the Batangueños may be calm in the surface, but underneath is a burning determination and fierce resolve to overcome and win the most difficult challenges. Taal volcano may expel its wrath over and over again for decades or even centuries. But the Batangueños’ love affair with its volcano will never be extinguished.”
Meanwhile, Collantes noted that there has been zero casualty through the quick response of both the national and local governments to implement a timely and well-coordinated evacuation process. She showed appreciation for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte for being on top of the situation and coordinating evacuation and relief efforts, as well as her fellow Filipinos for the support incessantly given to the people of Batangas. “We Batangueños are very grateful for the outpouring of support and unselfishness displayed by our fellow Filipinos both in and out of government during this time of tragedy,” she said during her privilege speech.
There will be naysayers and critics of this decision by the House, perhaps because this has never been done before, much less at an area that is in close proximity to the volcano itself, although beyond the radius identified to be hazardous. The latest Phivolcs advisory remains at alert level 4, and that the ground has become swollen, indicative of another eruption any moment now, but there has to come a time for us to heed the call for help and be physically there to assist those in need.
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