Bill seeking additional powers for Duterte vs COVID-19 filed at Senate

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking to declare the existence of a national emergency and to authorize President Rodrigo Duterte to exercise powers necessary to address the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has been filed at the Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill No. 1413 titled “We Heal as One Act,” seeks to authorize Duterte to realign funds, and investments including unused or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any government-owned and controlled corporation or any national government agency.

The bill also proposes to grant Duterte the authority – for a limited period and subject to restrictions – to issue rules, regulations, and directives to address the coronavirus situation in the country.

The measure likewise proposes to grant the president the power to adopt and implement measures to prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19, expedite medical testing and observation of persons under monitoring, and the immediate treatment of confirmed virus-infected patients.

He may likewise direct the operations of privately-owned hospitals and other establishments to house health workers or serve as quarantine or distribution areas, as well as order public transportation to mobilize medical workers and other frontliners.

“The management and operation of the foregoing enterprises shall be retained by the owners of the enterprise, who shall render a full accounting to the President or his duly authorized representative,” the bill read.

The proposed measure also states that the president may also take over the operations of the said businesses – subject to limits and safeguards under the 1987 Constitution – if these enterprises “unjustifiably refused or signified that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises for anti-COVID-19 efforts.

The president may likewise undertake fast procurement or supplies as the need arises including testing kits, personal protective equipment, and other medical devices.

The proposed measure also seeks to authorize Duterte to cancel projects and programs to utilize its funds, realign budget and allocate funds held by any government agency to fund measures against the COVID-19 crisis.

The measure also seeks to ensure that local governments are acting in line with the directives of the national government.

The president will also submit a weekly report to the Congress while a Joint Oversight Committee will be established to determine whether such acts and orders of the President are within the specified restrictions.

The bill, introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

The Senate held a special session to tackle the bill on Monday.

Twelve senators, including Sotto, Cayetano, and Acting Senate Majority Leader Sherwin Gatchalian, Senators Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Ralph Recto, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Grace Poe and Francis Tolentino were present during the session.

The session, however, was temporarily suspended as they await the attendance of two more senators to reach a quorum.

Cayetano, who will sponsor the bill on the floor, said she is in the process of consulting the Cabinet officials, and consolidating all the proposed amendments introduced by her fellow senators. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

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