Congress postpones special session for additional funds for COVID-19 response

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2020 10:32 PM | Updated as of Mar 21 2020 11:52 AM

MANILA (UPDATE) - Congress will not push through with its plan to hold a special session over the weekend supposedly to tackle Malacañang's expected request for additional funds for government's coronavirus response, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said late Friday night.

Sotto said lawmakers will instead hold a meeting with executive agencies in Malacañang.

The “postponed” session will be “converted to a meeting in the Palace with House counterparts,” Sotto told reporters in a text message.

“We will discuss tomorrow how to empower and give the government the flexibility to address the present crisis,” he said.

“They want to discuss the parameters para malinaw at mabilis kaya we meet with counterparts and executive department muna to finish the draft bill,” the Senate President said when asked if the Palace called the meeting to ask for emergency powers.

“The draft bill could not be finalized so we have to meet first,” he said.

Senate Health Committee chair Christopher “Bong” Go and Sen. Pia Cayetano, who chairs the Senate’s tax-writing committee, are expected to represent the Senate with Sotto.

The House has yet to announce its representatives to the meeting.

Earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte would request a P1.6-billion budget to support government's efforts against COVID-19, including buying face masks, medicine and other medical equipment for frontline workers battling the disease.

"Kasi seryosong seryoso si Presidente, kailangang sirain na natin ang virus na ito (The President is really serious, we need to destroy this virus)," Panelo had said.

The executive branch decided to “set a meeting first to discuss these measures further,” said Go, who previously served as President Rodrigo Duterte’s special assistant.

The Philippines is under a state of calamity as the government taps quick response funds to procure food and medical equipment for frontline workers battling the spread of COVID-19.

The government needs more funds to help sustain marginalized families who temporarily lost their income after Luzon’s month-long lockdown forced public transportation and some businesses to suspend operations.

The Philippines’ most populous island was placed under an enhanced community quarantine to isolate possible carriers of the virus.

As of March 20, 230 patients in the Philippines contracted COVID-19. Of the number, 18 have died, 8 recovered, while the rest are still battling the global pandemic.