By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — To help poor Filipino families cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced businesses to close down leaving millions unemployed and hungry, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to call for a special session of Congress to swiftly pass the necessary measure that will give emergency cash subsidies to vulnerable households and beef up the government’s dwindling pandemic war chest.
“I urge the President to call a special session of Congress to pass the proposed Bayanihan 3 and expand the government’s cash subsidy program amid the spike in COVID-19 cases,” Drilon said.
“After all, it is the ineptitude of the Department of Health and the IATF which brought us to this situation,” he said.
Drilon recalled how the lockdown a year ago, the longest lockdown in the world, left 7.6 million families hungry. Likewise, the unemployment rate rose to 17.7%, equivalent to around 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos, last April 2020 due to the lockdown.
“This is the situation that we have to prepare for. We cannot let another 7.6 million Filipino families go hungry this year. Our inaction or delayed action can make another 7.3 million Filipinos lose their jobs again this month. We cannot let businesses permanently shut down,” Drilon said.
Drilon first made the call in an interview with radio station DzRH where he also called for the realignment of some items in the General Appropriations Act to boost the pandemic fund.
Drilon cited, for instance, the P19 billion anti-insurgency fund and the P9.5 billion for confidential and intelligence funds
“Wala na raw extension dahilan wala nang pera. Sa akin, mali iyan. Dapat bigyan ng ayuda ang ating mga kababayan dahilan sa sila ay naghihirap dahilan naman sa hindi maayos na pagpapatakbo nitong pandemic response,” Drilon said in the interview.
Section 15, Article VI of the Constitution allows the President to call a special session at any time.
The government has extended a lockdown in Metro Manila and other provinces for another week due to the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases with some health experts predicting it will reach 1 million by the end of April. However, the executive ruled out another extension despite the alarming surge of infections citing the lack of funds to assist the people affected by the lockdown.
Drilon said there is a need to provide more funding for the government’s COVID-19 pandemic in order to help the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society and small and medium enterprises heavily affected by the pandemic.
“Kailangan tugunan ito. Sa akin, kailangang tumawag ng special session ang Pangulo para po matugunan ito. Mag-realign ng mga items na hindi kailangan,” he said.
The minority leader said the Senate is always prepared to hold a special session in order to pass legislation to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Congress is on a break until May 17. (AI/MTVN)