Senate eyes special session to tackle food subsidies for poor families amid COVID-19 lockdown: Sotto

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 19 2020 03:00 PM | Updated as of Mar 19 2020 04:46 PM

MANILA - The Senate is eyeing a special session to tackle a "food subsidy budget" for daily wage earners who need government support during the month-long lockdown in Luzon and local quarantine measures in other parts of the country, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Thursday.

During the special session, lawmakers are expected to discuss the passage of a supplemental budget amounting to at least P27 billion for government to provide a P300-allowance for indigent families for 30 days as Luzon, Sotto said in a statement.

The main northern island is under enhanced community quarantine, suspending school, work and transport, save for frontline services, in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

"The rates may vary in the provinces that have access to fish, vegetables and other basic food supplies. In the National Capital Region, the poor do not have access to these,” Sotto said.

The proposed initial amount was based on a computation for indigent families in the capital region and "experts can extrapolate depending on the number of poor,” he said.

While the subsidy scheme "can also be applied in other regions that are threatened with limited food supplies because of the 'no work, no pay' policy being enforced by private companies," lawmakers are inclined to "quickly start with Luzon."

"Eventually [it will cover] the entire country, but we have to quickly start with Luzon," the Senate President said.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier placed Luzon under a month-long enhanced community quarantine to quell the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Public transportation, malls, cinemas and other non-essential factories and establishments have been suspended until the lockdown is lifted.

Outside Luzon, Cebu and the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Davao have also enforced quarantine measures.

Most senators have agreed to hold the special session to tackle the proposal, Sotto said, noting that he has discussed the planned food subsidies with Finance Sec. Sonny Dominguez and "a high-level economist."

"Money is food. Food is security. Security is peace and order," he said.

PHYSICAL SESSION

Sotto said he opts to hold a physical session in the Senate instead of a teleconference among senators.

Access had been restricted in the chamber's offices in Pasay City earlier this month after it was confirmed that a COVID-19 patient participated in a March 5 committee hearing, prompting several senators to go on quarantine and get tested for the virus.

"Lawmakers should bite the bitter pill in an emergency situation such as this," he said.

"We do not need a full staff in a special session. As long as there are recorders and a limited number of people to operate recorders, I suppose that will be enough," he said, noting that only the said fund proposal will be tackled.

"We need to get on our feet and make sure that our people, especially the poorest of the poor, do not worry about going hungry at a time when they should be focusing their attention on staying healthy," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri - who chairs the Committee on Rules which facilitates the flow of Senate sessions - remains in isolation after he tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

Zubiri said he would not participate in the special session as he is considered to be on sick leave.