Duterte signs law giving him additional powers vs.  COVID-19

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President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law early Wednesday morning a bill that gives him additional powers to strengthen the government’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The bill was drafted earlier,  then Congress urgently deliberated and passed the measure within a day last Monday.

Under the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, Duterte,  for a limited time,  will have more powers that includes the authority to reallocate government savings to coronavirus-related programs, control private businesses under special circumstances, and grant exemptions from procurement laws.

The “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020” also allows the President  to realign the 2020 budget and direct operations of hospitals and medical facilities to address the health crisis.

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,” said Panelo.

“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.

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 measure 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, Panelo also said.

Duterte has  placed the entire Philippines under a state of public health emergency and later a state of calamity to provide the government with enough leeway to tap into emergency funds for response to the pandemic.

The President was granted additional powers a week after Luzon was placed under a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 which has infected 552 people in the country as of Tuesday afternoon./Stacy Ang

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