Lawmaker wants one more week of Congress sessions to pass 'vital bills' for COVID-19 response

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 2) – A lawmaker has filed a resolution seeking to extend congressional sessions by a week to pass a host of COVID-19 response measures pending in the plenary, including the extension of special powers granted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed House Concurrent Resolution No. 8 on Monday, which if passed will alter the legislative calendar and extend the first regular session of the 18th Congress until June 11. This comes days before the scheduled June 5 adjournment of the plenary sessions of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

"Many other important measures are needed to help the country during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other measures that would be beneficial to the country," Rodriguez, who chairs the Committee on Constitutional Amendements, said in the resolution.

Among the priority bills which the chamber needs to pass are House Bill 6815 or the Accelerated Recovery and Intervention Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines or ARISE Philippines Act, HB 6676 or the COVID-19 Related Anti-Discrimination Act, and HB 6709 or the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus Act of 2020. These measures commit billions of pesos to give the economy and local businesses a boost following the two-month lockdown due to the pandemic, he said.

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Rodriguez explained that the additional session days are needed to take up proposals to extend the validity of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gave Duterte extraordinary powers such as realigning the national budget for COVID-19 response, as it expires later this month. Other pressing measures include HB 6622 or the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer Act, which will let banks manage loans that will turn sour, as well as bills mandating pop-up bicycle lanes and setting standards for workplace and public safety protocols under the new normal.

Congress adjourns sine die this week, and will reopen on the last week of July in time for the President's fifth State of the Nation Address. The extension is proposed to "give additional time to pass vital legislation." 

Plenary sessions are often held just Mondays to Wednesdays, although committee hearings may be held up to Friday.

Also on Congress' plate is the new anti-terrorism bill, which repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 by giving more surveillance powers to military and police in the name of national security.

The measure, which has been criticized as potentially suppressing dissent and free speech, has been certified as urgent by Malacañang. This means the House can approve it in both second and third readings in one day, rather than wait for three days in between. Senate President Tito Sotto III has said the measure is "as good as passed" before Congress closes this week.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.