Press Release
May 6, 2020

Privilege Speech of Sen. Francis "Tol" N. Tolentino

I rise today Mr. President in defense of the Senate as an institution that has stood firm and steadfast, independent and united, and loyal to the Constitution and the Filipino people. Throughout our history, even prior to World War II when our countrymen have looked for new ways to uphold the principles of our Constitution and to solve their problems, and even during the most desperate moments, many times they have turned to the Senate, the Philippine Senate.

Noong World War II, Mr President napakaraming Senador nakulong at may naexecute pa, Sen. Jose Ozamis.

We are confronted with what is perhaps the most challenging chapter in contemporary Philippine history. COVID-19 continues to cripple the world in ways that seemed unimaginable, yet are now painfully unfolding right before our very eyes. Even economies of the world perceived to be strong and stable have been shocked, and shaken, by this disease. COVID-19's aftermath is a reality to be feared as well.

Amidst all the chaos and confusion, amidst the seemingly gloomy search for an antidote, and despite the resounding call for national solidarity and cooperation, there are those who still manage to malign the integrity and commitment of the Senate in advancing the country and the people's ultimate good. The Senate has been accused of doing nothing, of failing to rise and serve the people at a time when they needed their leaders the most. Such statements are unjust and disheartening, Mr. President.

If I alone had been the target of these attacks, Mr. President, I should not take a moment of the Senate's valuable time today, but I believe that other Senators who have been unjustly and wilfully assailed, hold the same attitude upon this that I do.

The reckless provocations, fake news, most often for pettiest and personal reasons - not having to do whatsoever with the role of a Senator in the current Coronavirus crisis- should never be regarded as new normal. We should never allow purveyors of fake news and vested interest to desecrate the Senate as an institution. The Philippine Senate holds the distinction of remaining open, with our adoption of hybrid proceedings by virtue of P.S. Reso. No. 372, while other legislatures in other countries - with all due respect, China, Madagascar, Czech Republic, Malaysia, and Mexico - have remained closed.

I rise today, in recognition of the efforts and sacrifices made by our colleagues here in the midst of the pandemic. Three of our colleagues were affected Covid 19 and 20 staff were tested positive.

Lastly, I rise today, to give a highlight of the accomplishments of our colleagues, starting with the landmark measure that laid down the framework for the recovery and rehabilitation of the country.

We started last Feb. 4, 2020 when we held committee hearing to tackle coronavirus Then on March 23, we tackled the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Rep Act No. 11469. Bakit nila sinasabi na wala tayong ginagawa?

Not only recognizing the present but foreseeing the future needs of our countrymen and the economic and fiscal measures needed to boost the economy, beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic, our lawmakers have crafted pieces of legislation which aim to help our country into moving forward, as we usher in the "new normal." To follow is not an exhaustive and comprehensive list, but I hope that this gives justice to the hard work of my colleagues:

1. Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III filed resolutions honoring and commending our frontliners against COVID-19 thru P.S. Reso. No. 351 and calling for an investigation on the status of the implementation of the national ID system to aid the faster distribution of subsidies in this time of pandemic thru P.S. Reso. No. 352). I also understand that the Senate President filed a bill calling for amending the opening of the school calendar.

2. Sen. Ralph Recto, our resident economist, yesterday called for the Committee of the Whole to tackle on a macro-economic perspective what this country will face and has filed Senate Bill No. 1474, to provide an economic stimulus strategy for the effects of COVID-19 and appropriating funds therefor, and likewise filed P.S. Reso. No. 387 to conduct an investigation on the status and progress of the national strategy against the disease.

3. Our good majority leader, Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who himself was COVID-19 positive and has recently recovered, called for an inquiry on the preparedness of the concerned government agencies, particularly the Department of Health (DOH), in the event that the novel coronavirus (2019-ncov) spread in the Philippines and become an epidemic in his P.S. Reso. No. 301. He even donated boxes of masks and test kits coming from his own pocket

Bakit nila sinasabi na wala pa tayong ginagawa?

4. Our minority leader, Sen. Franklin Drilon, has supported the privatization of government assets. He called on the economic managers of the President to mount a "speedy review of State assets that could be sold off immediately to generate funds for the Covid-19 crisis and counter the growing budget deficit due to the pandemic."

5. Sen. Sonny Angara did not let his COVID-19 positive condition deter him from his duties and filed Senate Bill No. 1417, for an appropriation of P108 Billion pesos for the 2020 fiscal stimulus package to address the pandemic's economic impact.

6. Sen. Nancy Binay suggested the formation of teams of trained COVID-19 ''trackers'' . she mentioned this during the February 4 hearing. that could be the key to curbing the spread of the virus in communities as the country transitions from the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ). She also urged the government to shoulder the cost of cremating the remains of victims of COVID-19. Sen. Binay as I heard is also calling for a tourism committee hearing.

7. Sen. Pia Cayetano, aside from leading the formulation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, filed a bill, S. No. 1442, providing for the Establishment of Additional Quarantine Stations, Grounds and Anchorages and S. No. 63 for Priority Health Infrastructure. She also serves our liaison to the Inter Agency Task Force.

8. Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, while quarantined in Davao, has been distributing relief items to his constituents in the region and has filed Senate Resolution 364, "Commending All the Frontliners and Essential Workers Who Risk Their Own Health and Safety in Order to Serve Their Fellow Filipinos in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic".

9. Sen. Win Gatchalian called on the government to look for ways to ease payment terms of consumers whose electricity bills are expected to pile up after due to the lockdown. He also filed several bills on education and has asked the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to include electric bill subsidies in the government's Social Amelioration Program for affected communities. He too has reached the LGUs not just in CAMANAVA but in Bulacan.

10. Sen. Christopher Lawrence T. Go filed a bill, S. No. 1451, that aims to institute the Medical Reserve Corps and a resolution, P.S. Res. 380, urging the Executive Department to formulate and implement a Balik Probinsya Program. Sen. Bong Go has never left Metro Manila and has probably forgotten the Visayan language when he returns to Davao.

11.Sen. Richard J. Gordon, through his role in the Red Cross, has facilitated the entry of thousands of test kits and donation of personal protective equipment into the country for our frontliners. The Red Cross as we know is leading the testing measures for our countrymen.

12. Sen. Risa Hontiveros, filed S. No. 1436 or the "Mandatory Protection of Health Workers, Frontliners and Patients Act" which aims to address threats and acts of violence and harassment against health workers and patients in their respective communities.

13. Sen. Panfilo "Ping" M. Lacson, called on the utilization of unused 2019 funds of the Government for the COVID response. Along with Sen. Dela Rosa, he backed the proposal to sell military golf courses for additional COVID19 funds. Senator Lacson, my kababayan is very knowledgeable and has mastered the lingo of doctors and epidemiologists.

14. Sen. Manuel "Lito" M. Lapid filed S. No. 1503, to institutionalize a mechanism for the mandatory and expedited disposition of abandoned imported goods for the poor and underprivileged in times of calamities and other national emergencies. He also pushed for the establishment of information centers during times of calamities and other emergencies with his bill, S. No. 1507.

15. Sen. Imee R. Marcos likewise filed several economic measures, such as S. No. 1414 or the establishment of the emergency response and recovery package to counter the COVID-19 Pandemic, entitled, 'Pag-Asa: Alaga, Sustento, At Angat Sa Panahon Ng Covid-19 Crisis and S. No. 1429 in order to grant full tax benefits to donations provided during a state of a calamity. Senator Marcos is behind the push for the revival of Kadiwa Centers to provide affordable and basic vegetables and goods.

16. Emmanuel "Manny" D. Pacquiao proposed in S. No. 1461 the enforcement of measures to mitigate the spread of contagious diseases in the community and select public establishments. He also aims to file a "New Normal" bill that will set guidelines on how day-to-day activities - from business operations to the conduct of government agencies - will run in an environment reshaped by the global pandemic. He was the first to donate thousands of rapid test kits and masks to the PNP.

Bakit pa rin sinasabi nila na walang ginagawa ang Senador?

17. Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan urged the extension of the government's cash aid program for formal sector employees and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were displaced due the work stoppage during the coronavirus crisis.

18. Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who was himself COVID-19 positive and has recently recovered, called on the DOH to issue childbirth protocols during the pandemic as pregnant women are one of the most vulnerable at this time.

19. Sen. Grace L. Poe proposed in S. No. 1450 the creation of a Center for Disease Control to strengthen national preparedness and response to public health emergencies. Senator Poe will conduct a hearing relative to bus operators next week.

20. Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. filed Senate Bill No. 1512, calling for the establishment of the Philippine E-Health System in the delivery of health services with the use of information and communications technology in the country. He likewise donated sacks of rice to the needy.

21. Sen. Joel Villanueva, who continues to champion for the rights of workers in the midst of the pandemic, has filed Sen. Bill No. 1453 to grant hazard pay to workers in critical industries during a state of calamity or emergency or public health emergency. He championed the grant of payment for the JO's.

22. Cynthia A. Villar reiterated her call for the government to promote home gardening and backyard farming as a way to help citizens attain food security. She also recommended labor-intensive sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and construction to ensure stable food supply and provide displaced workers with income amid the extended enhanced community quarantine.

Even Senator Delima filed several bills relative to Covid-19.

Among the other measures passed by our members, representing the collective will of 14 of our members, is Senate Res. No. 362, calling for the resignation of the Department of Health Secretary, which shows that we know and feel very much the reality of the situation posed by the pandemic.

The most recent measure that we have taken up in this chamber is P.S. Res. No. 372 which calls for the adoption of hybrid proceedings by combining both teleconference and in-person attendance by the Senators in the session.

Mr President, yung sinasabi po nila na walang ginagawa ang senado, Ang sagot diyan ay, "No." The Senate has not remained silent, nor has it succumbed to inaction. Allow me to congratulate our colleagues in this August Chamber, who despite of the risks, despite of ill health, despite of unjust accusations, remain anchored to the mandates of the Senate in pursuit of the welfare of our countrymen.

And now as we look to the future, after this corona virus pandemic, people will still rely on the Philippine Senate as the bedrock of innovative solutions, of solutions to the looming recession, unemployment, possible fiscal problems, stretched health systems and depleted government resources and even closed small businesses - not to mention the hundreds of grieving families, thus far. Recovery will be a long road, months and even years to travel. But the greatest danger Mr. President is not the lack of funds or resources - the greatest danger is when voices will sow distrust amongst us to satisfy private interests. If that happens, who will then speak for the Filipinos? Who will stand for the marginalized? It is the Senate, Mr. President. Hence, we ought to remain solid and strong.

Gat Andres Bonifacio once said: "Reason tells us to be united in sentiment, thought and purpose in order to have the strength to combat the prevailing evils in our country." Salamat po, Mr. President.

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