Duterte given additional powers by Senate and House, Bill up for signing

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Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have  given President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers  with the passage of a Bill that would primarily be used to address the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Both the Senate and Congress on Monday night approved the urgent bill seeking to give emergency powers to Duterte as the Philippine government tries to strengthen its defenses against the health, economic, and social consequences that may be caused by COVID-19.

The proposed “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which Duterte certified as urgent, was transmitted to Malacanang for his signature.

Duterte gave a national address on Tuesday night about such powers, but there was no mention as of this writing whether or not he signed the proposed measure.

Duterte thanked Congress after they convened in a special session and approved a measure granting him additional powers to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“I particularly thank Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for strong and decisive and leadership you have demonstrated in shepherding this measure during this critical time in our national history,” Duterte said in his address to the nation.

“To the members of both houses of Congress who sponsored and voted for this measure, I express my sincerest gratitude to all of you for granting our most urgent request,” he added.

The measure covers various aspects of the government’s response to the health crisis, ranging from giving economic assistance to affected individuals, ensuring that there is enough support for frontline workers, and keeping public order and safety.

Some  of  the salient points to be covered by Duterte’s authority, as agreed upon by members of the legislative branch:

 

Economic and Financial Assistance

The measure  gives Duterte authority over budget, operation of medical facilities in fight vs. COVID-19.

Around 18 million low-income households belonging to the informal sector should be targeted to receive monthly emergency subsidies amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 for two months. The assistance shall be “computed based on the prevailing regional minimum wages rates.”

An expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, responsive to the needs of those affected by the enhanced community quarantine may also be implemented.

All public health workers must be given a “COVID-19 special risk allowance,” in addition to the hazard pay granted under the Magna Carta of the Public Health Workers or Republic Act No. 7305.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) may be directed by the President to shoulder all medical expenses of public and private health workers in case of “exposure to COVID-19 or any work-related injury or disease during the duration of the emergency.”

Public and private health workers shall receive a compensation of P100,000 each should they contract “severe” COVID-19 while in the line of duty. Medical workers who died while performing their duties to combat the spread of COVID-19 shall also be entitled to P1 million each. This provision has a retroactive application from February 1, 2020.

All LGUs shall be authorized to utilize more than five percent of the amount allocated for their calamity fund subject to additional funding and support from the national government.

Productive sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas, must have enough credit resources to turn to, which can be ensured by employing measures such as “lowering the effective lending rates of interest and reserve requirements of lending institutions.”

Importation of equipment and supplies that are needed to combat the spread of COVID-19 shall be exempt from import duties, taxes and other fees.

Statutory deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law, and the grant of any benefit may be rescheduled by the President to ease the burden of the citizens.

Banks and other financial institutions may be directed to implement a 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans and credit card payments, falling due within the period of  the enhanced community quarantine. Interests, penalties, fees, or other charges shall be waived.

A 30-day grace period on paying residential rents may also be ordered by the President.


Health

The President is given the authority to adopt and implement measures that prevent and suppress the transmission and spread and COVID-19. These can be done through effective education, detection, protection, and treatment.

The President may order to expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate the immediate testing of Persons Under Investigation  (PUI) and Persons Under Monitoring (PUM)  by public and private institutions.

The President may direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities such passenger vessels and, other establishments, to” house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities.”

The President may direct public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons.

The President is tasked to ensure there will be no unnecessary delays in the donation, acceptance and distribution of health products in addressing COVID-19.

The President is given the authority to expedite the procurement of goods such as personal protective equipment as well as surgical, laboratory and medical equipment, among others.

The following hospitals will be prioritized in the allocation and distribution of the said goods:

Public health facilities in the regions, provinces, or cities, that are designated as COVID-19 referral hospitals, such as but not limited to Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital;

Private hospitals which have existing capacities to provide support care and treatment to COVID-19 patients; and,

Public and private laboratories that have existing capacities to test suspected COVID-19 patients.

Aside from privately-owned hospitals, the President may also expedite the procurement of utilities, telecommunications, and other critical services in the  operation of quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution centers and temporary medical facilities.

The President may also engage the services of the Philippine Red Cross in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

He may also temporarily enlist the help of human resources for health such as medical and allied medical staff to complement or supplement the current health workforce.

 

Public Order

The President is given the authority to continue enforcing measures against “hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels, monopolies or other combinations in restraint of trade, or other pernicious practices.

The President may also regulate and limit the operation of all forms of transportation, as well as traffic along the streets.

The President may authorize alternative working arrangements for workers in the executive branch, and in other branches of the government and the private sector, if necessary.

The President may also order how power, fuel, energy and water resources may be conserved and regulated, and ensure that these have an adequate supply.

 

Budgetary provisions

The President may “direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities of any agency of the executive branch, including government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCC)” under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The unobligated allotments for the said projects may be used to augment COVID-19 response initiatives.

The discontinued program, activity or project may be revived at any time after the national emergency has ceased and may be proposed for funding within the next two fiscal years, notwithstanding existing laws.

Any unutilized or unreleased balance in a special purpose fund, as of the date of declaration of a State of Emergency, shall be considered to have their purpose abandoned for the duration of the State of Emergency. These shall be appropriated for measures to address the health crisis.

The President may reprogram, reallocate, and realign from savings on other items of appropriations in the FY 2020 GAA in the Executive Department, as may be necessary and beneficial.

The President is authorized to allocate cash, funds, investments, including unutilized or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any GOCC or any national government agency for COVID-19 response.

The thirty percent cap on the amount appropriated for the quick response fund, as provided for in Republic Act No. 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” may be lifted.

Meanwhile,  Duterte has ordered all government agencies concerned  led by the Department  of National  Defense (DND) and of the Department of the Interior  and Local  Government  (DILG) to  “ramp up” the implementation of a National  Action  Plan (NAP) , aimed  to reinforce efforts to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In his address to the nation, the President  said the NAP is chaired by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana while Interior Secretary Eduardo Año serves as the vice chairman.

The NAP will be implemented by the DND, the DILG along with the Armed  Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Duterte said the NAP will regularly report their progress.

“To the Filipino people, rest assured that your entire government is working hand in hand to safeguard your health, safety, and well-being in the face of the threat posed by COVID-19,” Duterte said.

For his part, Salvador S. Panelo, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and  Presidential Spokesperson, said Congress has responded to the call of the times by passing the bill entitled “Bayanihan To Heal As One Act” granting stand-by powers to the President to carry out effectively the national policy of stopping the spread of the coronavirus virus disease (COVID-19) which has endangered the lives of the Filipino people.

There is an urgent need to implement measures that will help address the health scare brought about by the spread of COVID-19 in our land. They include the effective detection of the virus among the populace, prompt testing by health facilities of patients, protection and access to transportation in favor of our health workers who are at the frontline of this battle, maintenance of availability and pricing of essential and basic commodities for consumers, and provision thereof to those belonging to the vulnerable sectors of society, among others.

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is a response to such urgent need, the swift and efficient implementation of which will secure the success of the measures established by the national government in eradicating the threat to our national survival, Panelo said.

The bill authorizes the President for the immediate implementation of measures for the effective education, detection, protection, and treatment of our people versus COVID-19; expediting the accreditation of testing kits and facilitating the prompt testing by public and designated private institutions; providing allowance or compensation and shouldering medical expenses in favor of public and private health workers; directing establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, or relief and aid distribution locations, as well as public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel; ensuring the availability of essential goods, in particular food and medicine, and protecting the people from illegal and pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution and movement of certain essential items; directing the extension of statutory deadlines for the filing of government requirements and setting grace periods for payment of loans and rents; and providing subsidy to low-income households and implementing an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Program.

The proposed statute directs the Executive Branch to issue periodic reports of its implementation of necessary interventions to combat this pandemic. The Filipino people are assured that the powers granted the President shall be enforced strictly in accordance with the Constitution. The grant of powers is for a limited period and subject to the restrictions contained therein.

“Once again, we urge our countrymen to be wary of rumors and false news designed to create panic and confusion propagated by the enemies of peace and order,”Panelo also said./Stacy Ang

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