House of Representatives Plenary Hall

MANILA – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday that Congress will likely hold a special session as early as next week to tackle the passage of the ‘Bayanihan to Recover as One’ bill dubbed as the ‘Bayanihan II’.

“We’re expecting to have a special session very soon. Hopefully, next week or the week after, depende sa schedule na ibibigay din ng Palasyo (depending on the schedule given by the Palace), but we’re working hard,” Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters in an interview.

Cayetano said they are working on reaching a consensus regarding the budgetary aspect for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic response package contained in the ‘Bayanihan II’ proposal.

He noted that the Department of Finance has already been coordinating with the House of Representatives and Senate separately about the funding.

“We’re looking at between PHP140 billion to PHP200 billion for Bayanihan II,” he said, adding that the package should include loans for micro, small, and medium enterprises, funds for testing and medical supplies, and financial assistance for critically-affected sectors such as tourism and education.

He is also eyeing a separate stimulus that could be part of the proposed 2021 national budget.

“So, in the 2021 budget, I want to tell you that nabababaan kami sa level (we think that the [funding] level is low)… but we know they’re being cautious about the deficit, but for example, sa 2021 budget, dapat may pera na for the vaccine, ‘di ba? And we can label it, for example, [as] Covid-related programs,” he said.

He added that they are fully aware of the challenges posed by Covid-19 next year.

“So, we want to enter 2021 fully aware that may mga challenges ang Covid na kailangan i-meet (there are challenges from Covid-19 that we should meet) head on. Eh paano kung may vaccine, and paano kung hindi ka bibigyan kung hindi mo babayaran kaagad? So, kailangan naka-input na ‘yun kaagad (What if there is already a vaccine, but it can’t be given to you without paying immediately? So, we should input it already),” he added.

Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gives President Rodrigo Duterte temporary emergency powers to fight Covid-19, expired on June 25.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said extending Duterte’s emergency powers is necessary to allow the government to augment the medical supplies for the treatment of Covid-19, as well as to supervise some private hospitals that are attending to the needs of virus-infected individuals.

“Of course, we would need to have emergency powers again,” Roque said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

Congress, however, adjourned sine die on June 5 without passing a bill that would extend Duterte’s emergency powers.

While he noted that the country remains in “good shape,” Roque expressed optimism that Duterte would be granted emergency powers to help the government combat Covid-19. (PNA)