Senate OKs bill granting Duterte special powers to fight COVID-19
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate approved on Tuesday a bill seeking to grant President Rodrigo Duterte the “necessary and proper” powers to adopt several “temporary emergency measures” to deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Voting 12-0, the lawmakers passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Senate Bill No. 1418), which will also place the whole country under a state of national emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“In view of the continuing rise of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the serious threat to the health, safety, security, and lives of our countrymen, the long-term adverse effects on their means of livelihood, and the severe disruption of economic activities, a state of national emergency is hereby declared over the entire country,” the bill states.
During Monday’s special session which continued until early Tuesday, senators suspended the session several times to discuss amendments to the bill.
The amendments made include helping health workers who have been and are likely to be infected with the latest coronavirus strain, as well as giving financial aid to health workers who died of the disease.
The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. will be directed to shoulder all medical expenses of both public and private health workers “in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any other work-related injury or disease during the duration of the emergency.”
The measure — a substitution of Senate Bill No. 1413 earlier filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Pia Cayetano — was contained in Committee Report No. 70 prepared by the Senate finance committee.
In the House of Representatives, the counterpart bill was approved around Tuesday midnight, receiving 284 affirmative votes, 9 negative votes, and no abstentions.
The measure authorizes President Rodrigo Duterte to “exercise powers that are necessary and proper to carry out the declared national policy.”
According to finance committee acting chair Sen. Pia Cayetano, the bill authorizes the President to “reprogram, reallocate, and realign” any appropriation in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) “as may be necessary and beneficial to fund measures that will respond to the COVID-19 emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities and the recovery and rehabilitation.”
The President will also have authority to “allocate cash, funds, and investments held by any government-owned or controlled corporation (GOCC) or any national government agency as necessary to address the COVID-19 crisis,” Cayetano noted.
“Under the proposal, any unobligated amount, whether released or unreleased in the budget, shall be considered to have their purpose abandoned or fulfilled, as of the date of the declaration of the State of Emergency,” she added.
The measure also provides for an emergency subsidy for 18 million low-income households across the country amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 each for two months.
Among other powers given to the President is the authority to direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities, including passenger vessels, as well as other establishments.
These establishments will be for the use of housing health workers and will also serve as quarantine facilities as well as medical relief and aid distribution locations.
On top of that, the President will also have the authority to direct the operation of public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel.
The senators also sought to give the chief executive authority to “expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing by public and designated private institutions of PUIs (persons under investigation) and PUMs (persons under monitoring) and compulsory and immediate isolation and treatment of patients.”
The powers given to the President will only be effective for three months — “unless extended by Congress.”
A provision also mandates the President to submit a weekly report to Congress of all acts performed pursuant to the proposed measure.
The report should also include “the amount and corresponding utilization of the funds used, augmented, reprogrammed, reallocated and realigned.”
As of Monday, the whole of Luzon was still under an enhanced community quarantine due to the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.
According to the Department of Health, as of this writing, there are already 462 confirmed cases in the Philippines, 33 of whom have already died and 18 have recovered.
Worldwide, over 334,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, fo whom 14,608 have died and 96,243 patients have recovered.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan City in Hubei province in China in late 2019.
The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named the novel coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2.
The coronavirus is a family of viruses with surfaces having a crown-like appearance. The viruses are named for the spikes on their surfaces.
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