House OKs emergency powers vs COVID-19 for Duterte

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 24 2020 12:34 AM | Updated as of Mar 24 2020 05:19 AM

MANILA - After a marathon special session on Monday, the House of Representatives voted to grant President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to respond to the crisis brought by the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) —minus the controversial provisions on the take over of public utilities and broad discretions over state funds.

The bill, if it becomes law, will also only be in effect only for three months, unless extended by Congress with the provision that the powers granted may be withdrawn sooner by means of a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential Proclamation.

The measure was approved on 2nd reading around 11:30 p.m. Monday in an ayes and nayes vote where the ayes outyelled the nayes. The House proceeded to vote on 3rd and final reading as it was certified urgent by the President. The final vote was 284-9-0.

More than 70 congressmen spoke up during the period of interpellations in the marathon session that lasted close to 14 hours for both lawmakers on the floor and those joining via teleconferencing.

Amendments were made twice: first, a wholesale amendment by the adoption of a substitute bill and then an individual amendment proposed by Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado which was accepted by the majority.

The lower House set aside its own rules requiring physical presence of lawmakers and declared all those unable to join because of the enhanced community quarantine imposed by the government as being on official business.

Still, the bill zoomed through the chamber in the one day special session called by the President.

As approved, the following are the 25 powers authorized by the House for the use of the President:

  • Adopt and implement measures to prevent or suppress further transmission and spread of COVID-19 through effective education, detection, protection, and treatment;
  • Expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing by public and designated private institutions of PUIs and PUMs, and the compulsory and immediate isolation and treatment of patients;
  • Ensure that all Local Government Units (LGUs) are acting in line with the rules, regulations and directives issued by the National Government;
  • Consistent with Sec. 17, Art. XII of the Constitution, when the public interest so requires, direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and, other establishments, to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities; and public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons;
  • Continue to enforce measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels, monopolies or other combinations in restraint of trade, or other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution and movement of food, clothing, hygiene and sanitation products, medicine and medical supplies, fuel, fertilizers, chemicals, building materials, implements, machinery equipment and spare parts required in agriculture, industry and other essential services, and other articles of prime necessity, whether imported or locally produced or manufactured
  • Ensure that donation, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed;
  • Undertake the procurement of listed medical supplies and services as the need arises, in the most expeditious manner, as exemptions from the provisions of Republic Act No. 9184 or the “Government Procurement Reform Act” and other relevant laws:
    May engage the services of the Philippine Red Cross, as the primary humanitarian agency that is auxiliary to the government in giving aid to the people, subject to reimbursement, in the distribution of goods and services incidental in the fight against COVID-19;
  • Engage temporary human resources for health (HRH) such as medical and allied medical staff to complement or supplement the current health workforce or to man the temporary medical facilities to be established in accordance with section 4 7(d) of this act:
  • Ensure the availability of credit to the productive sectors of the economy especially in the countryside through measures such as, but not limited to, lowering the effective lending rates of interest and reserve requirements of lending institutions;
  • Liberalize the grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical or needed equipment or supplies for the carrying-out of the policy declared herein, including healthcare equipment and supplies,
  • 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 through land, sea or air, whether private or public;
  • Regulate traffic on all roads, streets, and bridges, and access thereto; prohibit putting up of encroachments or obstacles; authorize the removal of encroachments and illegal constructions in public places; and perform all other related acts;
  • Continue to authorize alternative working arrangements for employees and workers in the Executive Branch, and whenever it becomes necessary, in other independent branches of government and constitutional bodies, and the private sector;
  • Conserve and regulate the distribution and use of power, fuel, energy and water, and ensure adequate supply of the same;
  • Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects or activities (P/A/P) of any agency of the Executive Department, including government-owned or -controlled corporations (GOCC), in the FYs 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), whether released or unreleased the allotments for which remain unobligated, and utilize the savings generated therefrom to augment the allocation for any item directly related to support operations and response measures which are necessary or beneficial in order to address the COVID-19 emergency. However priority must be given to (A) Under the Department of Health - operational budgets of government hospitals, primarily those identified for treatment of COVID-19; prevention and control of other infectious diseases; emergency preparedness and response; Quick Response Fund; (B) Under the University of the Philippines - the operational budget of the Philippine General Hospital; (C) The National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund or Calamity Fund; (D) Programs of the Department of Labor and Employment, such as but not limited to Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers and COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP); (E) Under the Department of Trade and Industry - Livelihood Seeding Program and Negosyo Serbisyo sa Barangay; (F) Under the Department of Agriculture - Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program; (G) Under various Department of Social Welfare and Development Programs, such as but not limited to Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS), distribution of food and non-food items, and livelihood assistance grants; (H) Under Allocations to Local Government Units; (I) Quick Response Funds lodged in the various relevant departments, such as, but not limited to the DOH and DSWD.
  • Any unutilized or unreleased balance in a special purpose fund, as of the date of declaration of State of Emergency, shall be considered to have their purpose abandoned for the duration of the State of Emergency. All such unspent, unutilized or unreleased money or funds sourced from collections or receipts, including future collections and receipts, shall be utilized and are hereby appropriated for such measures to address the COVID-19 situation
  • Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, reprogram, reallocate, and realign from savings on other items of appropriations in the FY 2020 GAA in the Executive Department, as may be necessary and beneficial to fund measures that address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency,
  • Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the President is hereby authorized to allocate cash, funds, investments, including unutilized or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any GOCC or any national government agency in order to address the COVID-19 emergency, as declared in Section 3 hereof;
  • Move statutory deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law, and the grant of any benefit, in order to ease the burden on individuals under Community Quarantine;
  • Direct all banks, quasi-banks, financing companies, lending companies, and other financial institutions, public and private, including the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System and Pag- Ibig Fund, to implement a minimum of a thirty (30)-day grace period for the payment of all loans, including but not limited to salary, personal, housing, and motor vehicle loans, as well as credit card payments, falling due within the period from March 16 to April 15, 2020, without incurring interests, penalties, fees, or other charges. Persons with multiple loans shall likewise be given the minimum thirty (30)-day grace period for every loan;
  • Provide for a thirty (30) day grace period on residential rents falling due within the period from March 16 to April 15, 2020, without incurring interests, penalties, fees, and other charges;
  • Implement an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Program responsive to the needs posed by the crisis, and provision of commodity assistance program where the Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development may purchase commodities for emergency distribution to the members of the informal and marginalized sector during the duration of quarantine. the Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development may approve the temporary emergency standards of eligibility and levels of benefits.
  • Undertake such 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.

After the approval, the House suspended its session as it awaited the action of the Senate on the bill it approved. The House version was immediately transmitted to the Senate for its own action.