As of writing, there are now 380 confirmed COVID-19 cases here, with 25 deaths and hundreds of health workers under quarantine after being in contact with infected patients. Duterte’s answer? Asking the Congress to convene to discuss the Palace’s proposed “Bayanihan Act of 2020,” a bill that will “authorize the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to meet the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) national emergency, pursuant to the provisions of Section 15, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution,” according to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Over the weekend, the Palace has reached out to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, certifying the bill, which will “authorize the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out urgent measures in order to meet the COVID-19 national health emergency,” as urgent and prompting Congress to meet today.
But what exactly is this bill proposing? Nothing is final yet and deliberations are underway in the Senate and Congress. But based on the initial copy that Malacañang provided, here’s a rundown.
Declaring a national emergency
Citing the “continuing rise of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the serious threat to the health, safety and lives of our countrymen, the long-term adverse effects in their means of livelihood, and the severe disruption in economic activities,” Section 2 of the proposed bill will declare a state of national emergency.
Article VI, Section 15 of the Constitution states that the President may call a special session at any time, and it is the same article that the Palace in invoking to justify its calls for special powers, saying, “The Constitution grants the President the right to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy, for a limited period and subject to restrictions that Congress may impose (Article VI, Section 23).”
Some of such powers requested by the president to address the COVID-19 crisis include:
- Continuing efforts and implementing efforts such as the community quarantine;
- Aligning LGU initiatives with that of the national government while allowing LGUs to continue exercising their autonomy;
- Authorizing the President to temporarily take over/direct operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with the public interest, including but not limited to hotels, public transportation, and telecommunications entities to aid in housing and ferrying healthcare frontliners and coordinating government medical efforts.
- Empowering the President to buy personal protective equipment (PPE), laboratory, medical and surgical equipment, medical supplies and testing kits.
- Allocating cash, funds and investments held by any government-owned and -controlled corporation or any national government agency for whatever purpose deemed necessary.
These purposes include allocating “subsistence allowances” to low-income families
In a report by Inquirer, chair of the House ways and means committee Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the special powers are valid for “two months, or throughout the state of calamity, whichever comes later.”[READ: Duterte declares state of calamity throughout PH for 6 months as COVID-19 cases rise]
While most measures in the proposed bill cite parts of the Constitution, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman says that the sought additional powers like realigning billions of pesos from the 2020 budget is violating the Constitution.
Other measures such as using unspent allocation equivalent to a third of last year’s budget or P1.3 trillion, are raising suspicion among critics. According to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, P989 billion of that fund was kept by various state agencies under the executive department.
The Senate is set to meet in a special session this morning, while the Congress will also discuss a counterpart bill.
Header photo courtesy of the Office of the President
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Writer: CHRISTIAN SAN JOSE