House, Senate to hold special session this Saturday for ₱54B fund COVID-19 response

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    Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 20) — The House of Representatives and Senate will stage special sessions on Saturday afternoon to pass a ₱54-billion budget for the government’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    The two chambers of Congress have heeded the call of President Rodrigo Duterte to mount a session even though the Legislation is on a break. Duterte announced his request earlier this week.

    Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said on Friday night that he is “99% sure” that the special session will push through at 2 p.m. tomorrow, despite not receiving any formal request yet.

    “The 1% is because I have not received the official communication from the Palace. But everyone has been notified already,” said Sotto.

    Sotto earlier told CNN Philippines that he and his counterpart, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, are ready to do the session, with some lawmakers attending via teleconferencing, as they have already returned to their provinces.

    Congress has been on a break since May 13 and will reopen May 4.

    House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez earlier said that plans are being prepared to take into account the “social distancing” protocol to prevent the spread of the disease. Two employees from the House Printing Office have tested positive for COVID-19, with the first patient succumbing to the disease.

    Sotto said funds are readily available, but would need special authority from Congress — which has the sole power to allocate where government money is spent — to be used for COVID-19 response and relief efforts. He said there is ₱18 billion unreleased for unconditional cash transfers under the 2019 budget and ₱36 billion in the current spending plan which could be used to test patients, contain the spread of the disease, and compensate displaced workers.

    Sotto added that he prefers that the relief for workers and poor families be given in cash rather than as food packs, as the latter would take longer to procure and deliver.

    Source : CNN Philippines

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