Bzzzzz: Cebu solons join House action on emergency bill via Zoom; FB user's 'crime'

THE House of Representatives, convening itself into a committee of the whole, tackled Monday (March 23) House Bill #6616. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea argued that the "emergency powers" are needed to address the coronavirus outbreak, saying it is merely a "standby power," which the president would use only when absolutely necessary, "as a last resort." (That condition is not found in the bill; the president is given the power to decide when to use it.)

The committee of the whole already approved the bill. It will then be tackled by the plenary, which can approve it, having been certified by the president as urgent, on second and third reading on the same day.

Many congressmen, including legislators from Cebu, listened to Medialdea (who was physically present in the Batasan) via teleconferencing app Zoom, voted as committee of the whole and were to vote during plenary the same way. The photo of a Cebu congressman, Representative Pablo John Garcia of the third district, was posted on Facebook. Garcia, the caption said, supported HB #6616, saying it "provides just this swift and decisive action, while ensuring that the measure is limited in scope and duration to prevent executive abuse."

Legislative action, by live-streaming, on the emergency powers bill would be the first in Philippine history, among a number of precedents the coronavirus has singlehandedly set.

Row over corona testing

Every Filipino national crisis inevitably has its share of controversies and scandals. This one, in the time of coronavirus, is not yet the scandal of epic proportion in other times. It's just a controversy for now and it's over official privilege.

It's about testing for Covid-19. Several high-ranking officials and their families, senators and other VIPs in government preempting others in the testing for corona when they didn't qualify under the DOH policy of giving priority to the elderly and symptomatic patients amid the shortage of testing kits.

Among the senators, Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros chose not to take the test but Francis Tolentino took it. Tolentino could've gotten away with it, as his colleagues did. But Tolentino posted photos and negative finding of his test on Facebook, drawing flak from social media watchers. Senators Ping Lacson and Dick Gordon took the test but did not publicize the exercise of privilege.

What do you think of Senate President Tito Sotto's argument that key public officials must remain healthy to do their work? Maybe so, but must that include members of the official's family -- wife, children, in-laws -- as some of them did?

Taking relatives along for the ride resulted in another controversy: A health official was replaced for refusing to exempt VIPs from the DOH testing policy. The "mistake" was corrected by the health secretary after social media ranted about it.

FB user's 'crime'

Check out what charges are being readied against one Brandon Vismanos Perang, 27, of Paknaan, Mandaue City who, a SunStar news report says, made several online posts "lambasting and mocking the measures" of the government on the coronavirus crisis. Perang surrendered to police Monday, March 23.

Perang allegedly admitted to the police his "mistakes" and was ready to "face any consequences for making inappropriate posts" on FB. What crime did those criticisms and "mistakes" constitute? Was he guilty of publicizing falsehood or libeling any public official?

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