'No emergency powers' for Duterte in Senate's coronavirus response bill: Sotto

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2020 10:58 AM | Updated as of Mar 23 2020 12:27 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) - "Emergency powers" was not mentioned in a Senate bill that seeks to further empower President Rodrigo Duterte in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Monday.

Documents cited in earlier reports are drafts rejected by the Senate, Sotto told DZMM. The Senate bill will allow the executive branch to tap funds from government-owned and controlled corporations.

"Wag sila matatakot dun sa emergency powers sa bill. Walang emergency powers dun sa bill. Ako ang author e. 'Yung pinag-uusapan nilang kopya ay draft e, draft ng kung sinong abogado," he said.

(They should not be afraid of the emergency powers bill. There are no emergency powers in that bill. I am the author. The bill they are talking about is a draft, drafted by some lawyer.)

Under Senate Bill No. 1413, the executive branch will be allowed to:

- Adopt and implement measures to prevent or minimize transmission and spread of COVID-19

- Expedite medical testing and observation of persons under investigation and persons under monitoring and immediate treatment of patients suffering from COVID-19

- Ensure that all LGUs are acting in line with rules issued by national government

- When the public interest so requires, direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities... public transportation, PROVIDED that the management of operation of enterprises shall be retained by owners... that reasonable compensation for any additional damage or cost incurred by owner on account of complying with the directive shall be given to the person entitled to the possession of such private properties or businesses after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable

- Continue to adopt measures to protect people from hoarding, profiteering

- Undertake procurement of essential needs, including construction or lease of real property to house health workers, utilities and telecommunications, in expeditious manner

- Ensure availability of credit to the productive sectors of economy, especially in the countryside

- Liberalize the grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical or needed equipment

- Require businesses to prioritize and accept contracts, subject to fair and reasonable terms, for materials and services necessary to promote the herein declared national policy

- Regulate and limit the operation of all sectors of transportation, whether public or private

- Regulate traffic on all roads, streets, bridges; authorize removal of encroachments and illegal construction in public places

- Continue to authorize alternative working arrangements for employees and workers in executive branch, and whenever it become necessary, in other independent branches of government, constitutional bodies and private sector

- Conserve and regulate the distribution of power, fuel, energy and water, and ensure adequate supply of the same

- Direct the cancellation of appropriated programs, projects or activities of any executive agency and utilize the savings generated to address COVID-19 emergency

- Move statutory deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees and other charges required by law... in order to ease burden on individuals under community quarantine

- Undertake other measures as may be reasonable and necessary to enable the President to carry out the declared national policy subject to the bill of rights and other constitutional guarantees

Under the Senate's "We Heal As One Act", each indigent family is expected to receive about P8,000 monthly for 2 months, said Sotto, who co-authored the bill with Sen. Pia Cayetano.

"Nilagyan namin ito ng oversight. May oversight ang Congress ditto. Wag sila mag-alala safe na safe ito," he said.

(There will be oversight. Congress will have oversight. They should not be worried because there are safeguards.)

The Senate will tackle Sotto's bill in a special session on Monday.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, is leading a separate special session in the House of Representatives, said their version might include special powers for Duterte "as a last resort."

"Iyon pong isang sasabihin mo na halimbawa special power: iyong power to direct businesses 'pag ayaw sumunod," he told DZMM. 

(That''s what special power means for example: the power to direct businesses if they don't want to obey the government.) 

"Ang nasa draft, hindi i-take over -- kundi as a last resort, 'pag hindi nag-cooperate, saka iti-take over kasi nasa Konstitusyon iyon... Pero binago na nga namin pati iyong wording to simply 'direct' businesses," he added. 

(In the draft, it's not 'take over' -- but as last resort, if they don't don't cooperate, that's when government will take over because that's in the Constitution. But we changed that, including the wording, to simply 'direct' businesses.) 

The special session comes a week after Luzon, the Philippines' most populous island, was placed under an enhanced community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The global pandemic has infected 380 patients in the Philippines as of March 22, 2020. Of those infected, 25 died while 17 recovered from the disease, which originated from Wuhan, China.