MANILA – Malacañang withdrew Monday the “take-over” provisions in separate bills seeking to address the crisis brought about by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Addressing the House of Representatives during a special session, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea admitted to lawmakers that the Palace initially sought to include a provision authorizing the take-over of private establishments, despite Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s repeated claim that Malacañang never asked for emergency powers.
“The power to take over is intended merely as a standby power in the event the crisis reached its worst, when our most critical institutions are nearing a shutdown and government is left with no choice but to take over these establishments,” Medialdea said.
“We are requesting it this early because we do not know how quickly our Congress can convene if and when we reach that point. Thus, for the benefit of our people, we opted to include it in our requested authorities,” he explained.
In Malacañang’s draft of the bill first reported on ABS-CBN News Sunday, the President is authorized to temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest, including but not limited to hotels, public transportation, and telecommunications entities.
The draft said hotels will be used to house health workers or serve as quarantine centers or medical relief and aid distribution centers while public transportation will ferry health, emergency and frontline personnel. Take-over of telecommunication entities is intended to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.
While the management of these businesses will remain with the owners, the President or his representative, would have been authorized to direct and supervise their operations, providing for a reasonable compensation for additional damage or costs incurred by the owner.
Medialdea acknowledged that their proposal did not sit well with many sectors, pushing them to modify the provision.
“But as I said, this government believe that our democratic way of life will prevail through this crisis. As a testament to that conviction, we listened to the advice of our legislators and the opinions of our countrymen and have adjusted our proposal by narrowing it down and subjecting it to safeguards in addition to what we originally proposed,” he said.
Both the Senate and House versions no longer contain the phrase “temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest.”
Instead, the Senate version, Senate Bill 1413 or the “We Heal As One Act” only authorizes the President to “direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, including other establishments” to either house health workers or serve as quarantine areas or aid distribution locations.
This provision also applies to public transportation but no longer includes telecommunications entities.
In the House version, House Bill 6616 or the “Bayanihan Act of 2020,” carries similar provision on directing the operations of hospitals, medicals and health facilities and public transportation but includes hotels as among those whose operations the President can direct.
Both bills however still say that the President “may take over their operations” if these establishments “unjustifiably refuse or signified that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises.”
“We hope our modified proposal would now merit our legislators’ approval and our people’s wholehearted consent. You may be assured that we only aim to equip our government with all the legal authorities necessary so that we can, at the shortest time, bring our life as a nation back to normalcy,” Medialdea said.
Sotto on Sunday called the report about Malacañang’s request for emergency powers “irresponsible” claiming it was based on the draft of a lawyer seeking comments from Congress.
“No bill number, no author, that’s a piece of paper, tapos Headline? Wow,” he told Senate reporters in a message.
He continued: “It’s completely wrong to say ‘the President is asking for emergency powers.” Firstly, he is not. Nothing in the draft mentions that the President is asking for emergency powers. Secondly, I was instrumental in telling the Executive Department to call for a special session to give the President the authority to give and distribute cash to the needy people affected by the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine).”
But a copy of the draft bill ABS-CBN News obtained came from the Senate and was attached to a letter from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to Sotto with the President’s certification that the bill is urgent. It was distributed among senators and confirmed by 3 sources from the Senate.
ABS-CBN News also showed Sotto screenshots of the draft bill, section 3 of which specifically mentions the grant of “emergency powers” to the President, before he himself confirmed there was such a bill.
Sotto continued to maintain Monday the report was fake news.