As one of the lawmakers who voted against emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman insisted that the bill the House approved Monday was not validly passed.
Lagman said that the new system of virtual plenary session and distance electronic voting, under which House Bill No. 6616 was adopted, is not legal because the innovation was not validly effected by a proper amendment of the existing House rule requiring the physical presence of Members in the plenary hall for the determination of a quorum and ascertainment of the requisite vote.
“The suspension or amendment of the Rules of the House was not even formally moved, requested or required," he said.
Lagman added that the special session was a sham after the House speaker announced the presence of a quorum without a roll call and with a declaration that practically all members are purportedly on “official business” in their respective constituencies in order to consider them “present” but without the right to vote in absentia.
In the merits of the proposal, Lagman said authorizing the president to cause the “discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities” to generate forced savings demeans the congressional power of the purse and even allows the President to dismantle funds appropriated by the Congress in the GAA.
“This extraordinary budgetary power may constitute “transfer of funds” prohibited by Section 25 of Article VI, and therefore, unconstitutional,” he said.
For Lagman, House Bill No. 6616 is a surplusage because there are adequate response funds in the 2020 GAA, including the President’s Contingent Fund of P13 billion which is barely touched, all of which can be readily implemented without need for realignment.
Under the General Provisions of the GAA, Section 66, the President is authorized to use legitimate savings in the Executive Department and to augment deficient appropriations from such savings.
“In fact, the bill does not even include a supplemental budget and or an economic stimulus package. The expected rise in the number of patients who will test positive for COVID-19 is due not to the escalation of the deadly virus but because of the increase and more extensive use of test kits which have been made more available recently. There is also no need for legislation for the provision of ample supply of test kits and protective personal equipment (PPEs),” he said.
Lagman said the grant of additional emergency powers to the President to combat COVID-19 is unnecessary because he has express and inherent powers as chief executive which he has been discharging nationwide to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“There is no need to exacerbate the fears of citizens and businesses with a surfeit of Presidential emergency powers considering that extraordinary powers have been abused and misused in the past.”
Lagman said that in all other countries assaulted by COVID-19, no national parliament has granted its president or prime minister additional emergency powers to fight the pandemic, and no other president or prime minister has requested for any additional powers to address the public health emergency.
He added that what is needed is a well-prepared supplemental budget, which must be adopted after the resumption of sessions starting May 4, 2020, to adequately fund an economic stimulus package to ameliorate affected citizens and displaced workers, and provide relief to distressed businesses, particularly micro and small industries.
Lagman also wants to fully replenish the amounts disbursed from the funds originally appropriated to the concerned national agencies which were disbursed to address the pandemic.
Magdalo Rep. Manual Cabochan echoed similar sentiments and said that "the proposed measure is unnecessary for there are already existing laws, policies and programs that could be asserted to create more funds for the COVID-19 response."
"The government only needs to implement them strategically and effectively. Gamitin din muna sana ang contingency funds and other funds available under the Office of the President and other executive departments. Let us use existing resources for crisis response and if need be act on a supplemental budget,” he said.
“By approving this bill, we, the Congress, are effectively passing all the work and conferring all the powers to the President as if making him a lone savior of the crisis we are facing now. Nagawa na yan noon sa Martial Law sa Mindanao, hindi pa din nakabangon ang Marawi,” he added.