Malacanang is now asking Congress to declare a national emergency and grant special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte in order to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.
In a letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, dated March 21, 2020, Duterte certified the need to immediately enact a proposed measure which, among others, will allow government to temporarily take over or direct operations of privately-owned utilities and businesses to address the effects of COVID-19.
Sotto confirmed receipt of the draft bill.
The senator, however, stressed that, “After the title, nothing is written in stone.”
Sotto earlier said that key Duterte cabinet officials and legislative leaders, during a meeting Saturday, agreed to pass a bill that will give the President the “financial authority to realign funds available to address the COVID emergency crisis.”
“Pursuant to the provisions of Article VI, Section 26(2) of the 1987 Constitution, I hereby certify to the necessity of the immediate enactment of the attached Bill…in order to authorize the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to meet the COVID-19 national health emergency,” the President said in the letter transmitted to the Senate by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
The measure is expected to be tackled during Monday’s special congressional session called by the President.
Under the proposed measure, the President is authorized to temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest, including but not limited to hotels, public transportation, and telecommunications entities.
Hotels will be used to house health workers or serve as quarantine centers or medical relief and aid distribution centers, while public transportation will ferry health, emergency and frontline personnel.
Take-over of telecommunication entities is intended to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.
Management of these businesses will remain with the owners but the President or his representative will direct and supervise their operations, providing for a reasonable compensation for additional damage or costs incurred by the owner.
The same bill will also empower the President to purchase goods like testing kits, lease properties and construct temporary medical facilities without going through the rules on procurement, as well as require businesses to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services in connection with the fight against COVID-19.
The bill has provisions to regulate public and private transportation and traffic, as well as the distribution and use of power, fuel, energy and water to ensure adequate supply.
If the bill is enacted, the President can cancel appropriated programs, projects or activities to generate savings and to reallocate unused and unspent funds, or funds allocated for discontinued projects, to measures intended to address the COVID-19 emergency.
The proposed bill goes as far as repealing laws setting aside funds for specific or special projects that have remain unused so that the savings may be reallocated.
Another provision gives the President the power to realign any appropriation in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) in order to fund measures to meet the emergency.
The bill also seeks to punish any violation of the rules, regulations and directives of the national government with 2 months jail time and a fine of between P10,000 to P1 million.
The Senate will hold a special session to discuss the bill at 10 a.m. Monday.
The House of Representatives is also expected to discuss a counterpart bill.
Duterte has responded to the crisis earlier by first placing Metro Manila under community quarantine.
Then he ordered the suspension of travel to and from the National Capital Region (NCR).
He then later on expanded the coverage to the entire Luzon area, suspending mass public transportation and restricting residents to their homes.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Philippines has recorded 73 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number to 380 positive cases.
Six more people died, bringing the total deaths to 25.
The number of patients who recovered increased to 15./Stacy Ang