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House doubts special Bayanihan 2 session



House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez on Monday revealed that the conduct of a Special Session of Congress in a bid to extend the validity of P165.5-billion Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or the second Bayanihan Law is unlikely to happen.

The Leyte congressman said Congress is already running out of time as Malacañang has yet to call for such two days before the law is scheduled to expire on 30 June 2021.

“We’re running out of time. The holding of the special session is not likely to happen because a matter like this is under a time element,” Romualdez told reporters in a virtual press conference.

“The measure should be certified as urgent and we need to get the concurrence of the senate,” he added.

Romualdez, moreover, disclosed that Congress leaders were not able to discuss Bayanihan 2 extension with President Rodrigo Duterte when they met last 24 June.

At least P18 billion of the funds appropriated under Republic Act 11494 (Bayanihan 2) remains unutilized, nine months since the law was enacted in a bid to rescue the economy battered by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

If funds were still unspent by the deadline, these will be reverted to the National Treasury.

Another House leader — Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez — urged the President to immediately call Congress to a special session as not to dwindle the government’s pandemic response.

“We have to extend the effectivity of the law again so that the government can spend whatever remains of the millions of funds we have appropriated for the pandemic response,” Rodriguez said.

“Unless we pass another extension bill, the unspent funds would no longer be available,” he added.

Bayanihan 3
Meanwhile, Romualdez asked the Senate to take a “second look” at the proposed P401-billion third Bayanihan Law.

“The vaccination program and rollout are priorities (of the national government). We believe that there are sufficient funding sources and we at Congress and in the Senate are all with the President and administration with this rollout, so we will do everything in our powers, we shall expedite legislation to provide the same funding,” Romualdez said in a separate interview.

“We may be a bit ambitious in the eyes of the Senate and the Executive because we contemplated P400-billion fund. We’re hopeful that some considerations will be given to this measure,” he added.

The solon emphasized that Bayanihan 3 was passed in the House “almost unanimously” with 238-0-1 votes on 1 June.

At least 293 members from the supermajority, minority, and independent blocs in the House have signed either as principal authors or co-authors of the bill, which seeks to grant P2,000 financial assistance to all Filipinos, regardless of their age and income, in two tranches.

“We feel that the ayuda programs that this Bayanihan 3 would seek to address can also give the administration of the President and the Executive more latitude in the distribution of social amelioration programs a better effect all throughout,” Romualdez explained.

The Congress is currently on recess and will resume after Mr. Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address on 26 July.