Seares: Why they aren’t called emergency powers. Autonomy, yes, not on virus rules

Pachico A. Seares

THE March 20 oral order of President Duterte for local governments to “stand down” was clear enough.

He told local leaders that in the fight against the novel coronavirus they should follow orders from the inter-agency task force (IATF) and the office of the president. IATF and Malacañang “call the shots,” he said.

In the bill on “emergency” powers for the President, which Congress was expected to pass Monday (March 23) and Duterte to sign into law immediately after that, the line drawn for local government units (LGUs) is even made more plain and specific. And it will have the force and weight of the law, complete with jail term and fine as penalty on top of the existing administrative sanctions on public officials.

“Neither more nor less”

The provision is found in Section 4, titled “Authorized Powers,” in the nine-section bill. To cite the specific parts that reinforce and lend legal authority to the President’s earlier call-out to local government leaders:

[1] Intent of law’s limit: “To ensure that all LGUs are acting in line with the rules, regulations and directives issued by the national government...”

[2] Scope, content of local rules: Implementing standards of local quarantines shall be “neither more nor less” than what the national government, through the task force and the President, have laid down.

[3] Where autonomy still works: LGUs are allowed to continue exercising their autonomy but only “on matters undefined by the national government.” Meaning, LGU chiefs can do their thing with the coronavirus but only if it is not “defined” by IATF or the President.

[4] Purpose of basic rule: For a “unified, cohesive and orderly” implementation of national policies on Covid-19.

Not emergency powers

Are the powers being sought by President Duterte emergency powers?

No, said his spokesman Salvador Panelo Sunday, March 22, citing Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea’s letter to Congress calling for a special session. The letter, Panelo said, mentions “powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to implement the national emergency, not emergency powers.” Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier also denied that Duterte was asking for emergency powers.

What does the bill ask for, which Congress is expected to grant? Declare the existence of a national emergency on the coronavirus. Declare a national policy in combating it. Give the President powers “necessary and proper” to “carry out” the national policy, powers not found in his preexisting and residual powers.

What’s in the name

Not ”national emergency powers,” all right. Just call them “necessary and proper powers for a national emergency” or, in short, “powers for a national emergency.”

Nomenclature be damned

Filipinos are just hoping the extra powers—on top of specified and implied powers already vested in the office of the president—will be enough to contain the epidemic. The office will ask if more are needed.