An infrastructure-oriented “think tank” said that the proposed coronavirus emergency response bill violates the 1987 Constitution by failing to prescribe reasonable terms in the takeover of public utilities and business imbued with public interest.
“Never have we seen such sloppily written legislation than this emergency coronavirus response bill. Not only does the bill fail to respond to the current reality the Filipino family faces, it seeks to unnecessarily commandeer private businesses which had already been responding effectively to the crisis,” said Terry Ridon, Infrawatch PH convenor and former House legislative franchises committee member.
Ridon said that the most basic constitutional requirement for the takeover of businesses during national emergencies is the institution of reasonable terms upon takeover.
“Under the emergency bill, the terms are absolutely unreasonable. For example, determination of the expiration of the temporary takeover is subject to presidential discretion, instead of a mutually-agreed upon, specific but extendable expiration date based on prevailing conditions. Insisting on this presidential discretion approximates an unjust taking, if not confiscation,” Ridon said.
Ridon said this provision opens the possibility that businesses taken over during the crisis may never be returned by government.
“This creates serious instability and uncertainty in the economy, and would definitely spook investors considering the Philippines,” he said.
Ridon said that the bill does not limit businesses subject to takeover to those directly responding to the coronavirus crisis such as hotels and similar establishments.
“With hotels and similar businesses now also redefined as public utilities or businesses imbued with public interest, there is uncertainty on which public utilities and businesses may be subjected to temporary takeover. Will this now include all other public utilities which may ‘be used in addressing the needs of the public,’ such as power distribution and transmission companies, water utilities, broadcast companies? As such, anything and everything is fair game for a temporary takeover,” he said.
Ridon said the bill makes serious conceptual errors on entities eligible to receive compensation payment due to the government takeover.
“The bill confuses elementary legal concepts of payment, ownership and possession, as it provides the payment of reasonable compensation to the possessor of the property or business. The possessor of a property or a business is not always the owner, and the owner or the possessor of a property or business is not always the valid recipient of payments. As an example, if government retains possession of the property or business beyond the crisis, should the government as the possessor pay itself the reasonable compensation just because it retains possession? No. But the emergency bill makes it so,” Ridon said.
Ridon said the private sector instead should be allowed to address the national crisis without the spectre of vague, unreasonable temporary takeover, noting that private enterprises have already raised at least P1.5 billion to contribute to the national effort.
Ridon, who was a former urban poor chief of the Duterte administration, said these should be reason enough for Congress to focus instead on actual crisis relief for Filipino individuals, families and small businesses.
“There is nothing in the emergency bill which details with particularity new economic programs which the government will undertake. This is in sharp contrast from foreign governments such as the United States which is proposing stimulus checks amounting to $1200 per person and $500 per child,” he said.
Ridon said the bill cannot even be considered a supplemental spending bill.
“Make no mistake. This bill seeks emergency powers for the President, nothing else. It is not even the supplemental spending bill which the public had been expecting from the very beginning,” Ridon said.
Ridon said Congress exercise the power of the purse instead of surrendering everything to Malacanang.
“As proposed, the bill is nothing but a blank check granted to the executive to realign public funds: an unconstitutional surrender of congressional power. They have the power today to determine as line items how to help the public during this emergency, they should not waive this power,” Ridon said./Stacy Ang