Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday allayed fears of a supposed emergency powers in the bill which will give President Rodrigo Duterte extra powers to address the COVID-19 crisis.
“No emergency powers in the bill. I’m the author. The copy they’re talking about was a draft, it was drafted by some lawyers,” he said.
He stressed no mention of “emergency powers” for the President in the Senate version of a bill, which seeks to authorize the executive branch to tap funds from government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) to boost the Philippines’ fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19.)
Under the Senate version filed by Sotto on Monday, the executive branch will only be allowed to use additional funds to provide aid for some 18 million indigent families, the Senate President said.
He said each indigent family is expected to receive about P8,000 monthly for 2 months.
“There will be oversight. Congress will have oversight. They should not be worried because there are safeguards,” he said.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who is leading a separate special session in the other legislative chamber, said their version may include special powers for Duterte “as a last resort.”
“That’s what special powers mean for example: the power to direct businesses if they don’t want to obey the government,” he said.
“In the draft, it’s not ‘take over’ — but as last resort, if they don’t don’t cooperate, that’s when government will take over because that’s in the Constitution. But we changed that, including the wording, to simply ‘direct’ businesses,” he said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said while she fully supports the allocation of a supplemental budget to boost the government’s efforts to immediately contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, she however, rejected the giving of emergency powers to the President.
She stressed the proposed grant of additional powers to the Executive Branch are clearly unnecessary to address the most pressing needs of health workers, COVID-19 patients, and poor Filipinos alike in this critical period.
She said the country’s existing laws already grant the government the powers and other necessary tools needed to mount an effective response against COVID-19.
Notably, she said “the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act or Republic Act No. 11332 provides comprehensive mechanisms during epidemics or other health emergencies.”
Likewise, the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184) at present authorizes government agencies to engage in speedier, alternative methods of procurement of resources – such as negotiated procurement – during calamities.
In fact, the Government Procurement Policy Board issued Resolution 03-2020 to approve the efficient and expedient procurement procedures during this state of public health emergency, she said.
“What needs to be done is the immediate allocation of a supplemental budget that will allow economic safety nets for the most vulnerable affected by COVID-19 and all other programs the government must undertake to expand the capacity of our healthcare system and complement local government initiatives,” she also said.
The special session comes a week after Luzon, the Philippines’ most populous island, was placed under an enhanced community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19./Stacy Ang