“The House of Representatives is the House of the People. The involvement and participation of the people in the processes of legislation shall be encouraged, guaranteed and sustained,” is the first item in the Declaration of Principles and Policies of the Rules of the House of Representatives this 18th Congress. It has been carried on from previous Congresses, and to this day, it is the guiding principle for the reliability, relevance and responsiveness of the House.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has coined House of the People as “Hope,” a strong word that can mean endless things, all of which are positive signifying an ambition, aspiration and a desire — a fitting description on what impelled the House to hold its first ever plenary session outside the Batasan Complex in Constitution Hills, Quezon City, at the Batangas City Convention Center, the heart of the province struck by the Taal Volcano eruption, a few meters away from the biggest evacuation center in the area.
A total of 204 House members hailing from different provinces responded to the call during the Batangas session, showing their support to the victims. Speaker Cayetano expressed gratitude for the unity of the House in serving the Filipino people. “To the members of the 18th Congress, from rural and urban areas, Christians, Muslims and other religions, members of the majority and the minority, members of the administration and the opposition, salamat na nagkaisa tayo at pinakita natin, sa panahon ng kalamidad, ‘pag kailangan tayo (Thank you for we have united and we have shown this, in times of calamity, when needed), we are one voice. ‘We win as one’ is alive here today sa (in) Batangas City,” he said.
In an effort to provide the appropriate assistance to the province of Batangas that was devastated by the calamity, local officials, as well as evacuees, were invited to voice out their concerns before the legislators. San Nicolas, Batangas Mayor Lester de Sagun raised that families were forced to flee from their homes when the Taal Volcano spewed ash that ruined many houses in the area.
“Sana po matulungan sa pabahay ang 2,000 katao na nasalanta sa Volcano Island (I hope that the 2,000 people who were displaced from Volcano Island will be given help to find housing),” he said.
Meanwhile, Barangay Pulangbato Captain Ramon Gamo of San Nicolas, Batangas pleaded for the officials to continue allowing them to fish. “Sana po wag niyo alisin yun, dahil dun lang po kami nabubuhay. Ang panghuhuli po namin ng tawilis, sana po ‘wag niyo alisin (I hope you do not prevent us from fishing, because that is how we make a living. Catching tawilis, I hope you do not stop us),” he said.
A tour guide from San Nicolas, Edwina Bilog was in tears as she asked the House for livelihood. “Nandito po kami para humingi ng tulong. Sana po mabigyan niyo kami ng kabuhayan sa lugar ng Alas-As… Ang aming mga anak ay hindi po namin kaya mapag-aral kung hindi po kami mangingisda at maghahanapbuhay doon (We are here to ask for help. I hope you can give us in Alas-As a means of livelihood. We cannot send our children to school if we cannot fish and work there),” she said.
Speaker Cayetano then assured the victims that Congress is working with the concerned agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, in order to provide them with a new source of income. “We are listening to you today, pero may kumikilos na rin ngayon (but some are already making moves),” he said.
It was a productive session for the lawmakers as the House was also able to adopt House Resolution (HR) 655, which urges the immediate release of funds for the programs and efforts that shall aid those affected by the eruption. HR 662, expressing the support and commitment of the House of Representatives to work with all concerned agencies to pass the supplemental budget to expedite the effective and responsive assistance to the victims, was also adopted. These measures were filed by the Batangas solons, namely Deputy Speakers Raneo Abu and Vilma Santos-Recto, Deputy Majority Leaders Lianda Bolilia and Ma. Theresa Collantes, House Committee on Government Reorganization chairman Rep. Mario Vittorio Mariño, and Rep. Elenita Milagros Ermita-Buhain.
House Committee on Disaster Preparedness chairman, Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, likewise delivered her privilege speech to report on what has transpired, and called for the need of a Department for Disaster Resilience. Torres-Gomez speaks from experience, having experienced typhoon “Yolanda” at her home district.
After the session, Speaker Cayetano, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Minority Leader Benny Abante faced the media to show the solidarity of the House regardless of affiliation, that it is one with the people of Batangas. If it means holding another session in Batangas, or in other provinces that need its government and public officials, then so be it. This Congress is bent in bringing the government near to the people who need it the most. Hope may spring eternal, but this brand of governance is determined to deliver actual results.
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