MANILA - It was supposed to be a happy atmosphere during the latter part of the Senate session Thursday night, with the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) finally ratified after four grueling bicameral conference committee meetings of both houses of Congress.
But the happy note suddenly turned serious when Sen. Pia Cayetano virtually took the floor and registered her discontent with her colleagues’ behavior.
“I would like to point out that the insinuation that no one in the Senate pushed for their own personal gain is it appears that our counterparts in the House did. And you all know that the Speaker is my brother,” Cayetano said, referring to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
“I’d like to, on behalf of my former colleagues in the House, to put on record that I do take offense. That, ang dami nating parinig na 'yung para sa kanila ay may persona gain. I leave it up to you what your intention is, whoever makes those insinuations. Pero sa akin lang po, I’ve worked with them. And if you feel that there is one agency that is not competent to be lodge with state funds, that is our prerogative to fight for that,” she said.
Her remarks stemmed from the P10 billion tourism subsidy fund which the Senate and House contingents debated heavily during the four-day bicameral conference committee meeting on Bayanihan 2.
According to Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, House members were insisting to allocate the tourism subsidy fund for the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) to fund road constructions in tourist destinations.
Senators however wanted the fund to be given to displaced workers of the tourism industry and fund loans for stakeholders affected by the pandemic.
The impasse was only put to rest when senators offered a “compromise,” according to Drilon.
“Hanggang sa umabot kami sa compromise na ganito. Sampung bilyon (P10 billon) pa rin ang para sa tourism sector. Isang bilyon para sa tourism infrastructure ngunit hindi TIEZA ang mage-execute, kun'di DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways)," he said.
Drilon added P3 billion was allocated for displaced workers, and another P6 billion for soft loans for the tourism industry.
In defense of the congressmen, Cayetano said she also supports infrastructure for tourism.
“Infrastructure investments are known to be an economic vehicle for growth. How come our public beaches do not have bathrooms? How come our public beaches do not have boardwalks?” she said.
Sen. Sonny Angara, who lead the Senate contingent, confirmed the impasse with the House contingent which only ended around Thursday noon. Senate majority leader Miguel Zubiri expressed relief for seeing an end to that two-day impasse with the congressmen.
“I probably got a migraine if I were in his (Angara) shoes. 'Yung team natin sa Senado, it was pure advocacy,” Zubiri said.
Minutes before Cayetano's remarks, Senate President Vicente Sotto III took a dig at House members for a number of times on the tourism subsidy fund issue.
Sotto asked Zubiri as to the motive of the senators for defending the tourism subsidy vigorously.
“When the majority leader says, selfless in their proposals and advocacies, no agenda whatsoever, you were merely talking about the Senate panel, ano?” Sotto asked.
Bayanihan 2 is designed to authorize President Rodrigo Duterte to swiftly extend assistance to sectors affected by the pandemic, acquire vaccine against COVID-19, and assist government financial institutions.
The bill is expected to be ratified by the House before it can be transmitted to Duterte for signing into law. Once published, Bayanihan 2 will immediately take effect.