Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not abuse the special powers granted to him by Congress to address the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country, Malacañang said on Tuesday, March 24.
According to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, the president would use the special powers in accordance with the 1987 Constitution.
“The Filipino people are assured that the powers granted the president shall be enforced strictly in accordance with the Constitution. The grant of powers is for a limited period and subject to the restrictions contained therein,” he said.
The Senate on Tuesday approved the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Senate Bill1418), which authorizes Duterte to adopt several “temporary emergency measures” to contain COVID-19 as well as mobilize at least P200 billion to help over 24 million mostly-poor families.
The bill, authored by Senate President Tito Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano, received affirmative votes from Sotto, Cayetano, Majority Leader Sherwin Gatchalian, and Senators Christopher “Bong” Go, Francis Tolentino, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Richard Gordon who were physically present in the plenary.
Meanwhile, Sens. Ronald dela Rosa, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sonny Angara, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay, and Francis Pangilinan voted in the affirmative via phone patch.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the only senator who voted negative.
”There is an urgent need to implement measures that will help address the health scare brought about by the spread of COVID-19 in our land,” Panelo added.
Among the powers granted to Duterte under SB1418 are expediting and streamlining accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing; ensuring that all Local Government Units (LGUs) are acting in line with the rules issued by the national government; continuing to enforce measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels; and prioritizing the allocation and distribution of medical supplies to coronavirus-referral hospitals, public and private laboratories, and health facilities that have capacities to test and care for suspected COVID-19 patients.
The measure will also give the president the authorization to ensure the availability of credit to the productive sectors of the economy; liberalize the grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical or needed equipment or supplies; require businesses to prioritize and accept contracts, subject to fair and reasonable terms, needed to boost government’s fight against COVID-19; regulate and limit the operation of all sectors of transportation through land, sea or air, whether private or public; and conserve, regulate and ensure an adequate supply of power, fuel, energy and water.
Duterte’s authorized powers “shall be valid for three months, unless amended by Congress.”
A counterpart bill in the House of Representatives was approved on Monday, March 23 with 284 affirmative votes, nine negative votes, and no abstentions.
The committee passed House Bill No. 6616 or the “Bayanihan Act of 2020,” which authorizes the president “for a limited period and subject to restrictions” powers that are necessary for dealing with the current health situation in the country.
One of those powers is allowing the president to “direct the operation of 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.”
The measure further grants the power to purchase essential medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, venues that may be used as quarantine centers, as well as other goods and services for COVID-19-affected communities.
Duterte would also be able to “reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation” in the 2020 national budget “for whatever purpose the president may deem necessary and desirable to fund measures to address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency.”
The implementation of other preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 is covered under the measure, such as the fast-tracking of testing for persons under investigation and monitoring (PUIs and PUMs), regulation of public and private transport, regulation of traffic on all roads, and ensuring compliance of local government units for the community quarantine standards.
“In order to optimize the efforts of the president to carry out the tasks needed to implement the aforementioned policy, it is imperative to grant him emergency powers subject to such limitations as hereinafter provided,” the bill stated.