MANILA - The executive branch will still be subjected to state auditing even if Congress has authorized President Rodrigo Duterte to realign funds to better respond to the coronavirus crisis, a Senate leader said Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon issued the remarks hours after the legislative approved a bill that will grant special powers to Duterte, and cash aid for health workers and indigent families adversely affected by the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Senate Bill 1418 or the "Bayanihan to Heal as One Act" authorizes the president to "reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation" in the 2020 budget, provided that it will be used in the fight against COVID-19.
"I want to emphasize that the rules of the Commission on Audit and the law on anti-graft are not being waived in so far as the execution of this law is concerned," Drilon said in a radio interview.
"Iyan [audit rules] ay umiiral kahit may kapangyarihang malawak, kahit na may kapangyarihang ibinibigay para i-realign ang existing budget doon sa pagdagdag ng pera para sa ibang programa," he said.
Under the bill, the President will be required to submit a weekly report to Congress detailing where the executive branch pulled out funds and how these were spent.
The president's special powers during the coronavirus crisis in the country seemed "perpetual" in the original draft of the bill, but senators made sure that parameters would be included in the approved version, Drilon said.
"Kung inyong napansin, walang bagong appropriation dito. Ibig sabihin, walang bagong budget kung hindi yung budget pa din dati... ni-realign at binigyan priority lang yung tungkol sa pangangailangan natin sa coronavirus," he said.
"Ito ay extraordinary times at siguro sa 3 buwan, bigyan natin ng enough leeway ang executive branch to do the job... Kapag hindi natin sinunod ito ay may pananagutan pa rin tayo," he said.
PRONE TO ABUSE?
Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the lone senator who opposed the bill, but her negative vote expressed through a phone call was not counted as only senators physically present in plenary are allowed to cast official votes.
Hontiveros said the special powers granted to the Presient are "prone to abuse" despite the safeguards in the measure.
"We cannot and should not blindly trust the use of these important funds to a government, which during this health crisis... has been unable to immediately and sufficiently deliver personal protective equipment to our doctors, health workers, law enforcement agents and other frontliners," she said in a statement.
"Hindi special powers ang sagot sa pandemic na ito, kundi political will para isulong ang mass-testing, ibigay ang PPEs at hazard pay sa mga frontliners, at ihatid ang cash assistance sa mga mahihirap na pamilya at nawalan ng kita," she said.
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he voted in favor of the bill "with serious reservations" and warned executive agencies to implement the measure "effectively."
"It is a warning and an admonition to the inter-agency task force (IATF) that our people deserve better from them, and that the incoherent and often confusing, conflicting, and haphazard policy pronouncements in the past 2 weeks ought to be the last coming from IATF," he said.
"We will call them out should we see that the law and funding we have put in place are not being implemented as envisioned," he said.
The bill has been submitted to Malacañang for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature.