Emergency power for Duterte

Senate of the Philippines
Members of the Lower House of Congress attend a special session with desks arranged to observe social distancing amongst members in Manila on March 23, 2020, to discuss a proposed emergency power to be given to President Rodrigo Duterte to tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Duterte ordered about half the country's population to stay home for the next month in a drastic bid March 16 to curb the rising number of new coronavirus cases. STR / AFP

THE House of Representatives at presstime was leaning towards the approval of House Bill 6616 which will provide President Rodrigo Duterte a limited emergency power – subject for  restrictions -- in addressing the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

The measure to be called Bayanihan Act of 2020 was principally authored by Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, chairman of the appropriations committee and ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap and Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte.

The House, following the call of President Duterte, held a special session to approve this measure.

In order to follow guidelines of social distancing, only 20 lawmakers are allowed to go to the plenary for the proceedings while other solons participated through teleconferencing.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was also present and presided over the session in the first one hour.

From the executive branch, present during the session are Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea; Budget and Management Secretary Wendel Avisado and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año.

HB 6616 allows the president to issue such rules, regulations, and directives as may be necessary to carry out his powers which include implementation of measures to curb the transmission of the disease, hastening medical testing of persons under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUM) and immediate treatment of COVID-19.

The President shall also ensure that local government units are following directives from the national government in line with its pandemic response.

The President can also reprogram, reallocate and realign any appropriation in the 2020 national budge for whatever purpose the Presdient may deem necessary and desirable to fund measure to address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency.

The President can also “direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels, and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief, and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities; and public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons.”

The bill also states that “if the foregoing enterprises unjustifiably refuse or signified that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises for the purpose stated herein, the President may take over their operations subject to the limits and safeguards enshrined in the Constitution.”

According to Villafuerte, there is P275 billion available funds that can be used for this purpose.

Villafuerte said that P200 billion will be set aside for emergency subsidy program for around 18 million affected families for two months. The remaining P75 billion will be used for health expenditures and other services.

Political groups in the House have expressed their full support for the bill.

National Unity Party (NUP) president and Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said the party is backing the proposal as he underscored the need of the national government to have enough funds in dealing with the disease.

Even the Partylist Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI) led by its president Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero is in full support of House Bill No 6616.

“We are one in this Humanities fight vs Covid 19. We throw our full support to the President in combating this invisible enemy that can cause thousand or even millions of infections and even death. Filipinos must have a fighting chance. This P275 Billion lifeline is much needed by every Filipino,” Romero said.