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Duterte seeks nat'l emergency edict, emergency powers from Congress

President Rodrigo Duterte is asking Congress to declare a national emergency amid the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country and grant him emergency powers to address the public health emergency situation.

In a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Duterte said he is certifying as urgent the still-unnumbered Senate bill seeking to declare a national emergency in the country and a unified national policy to address it.

Along with these, the measure also aims to authorize Duterte to "exercise powers necessary and proper" to implement the said national policy "for a limited period and subject to restrictions."

However, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Sunday said Duterte is not requesting for emergency powers to address the spread of COVID-19.

"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," Sotto said in a message to reporters.

According to the draft bill, while the government has ramped up its efforts against the spread of the novel coronavirus, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to increase, and there is now an urgent to need to minimize its transmission, mobilize assistance to affected individuals, and provide healthcare and treatment to patients.

"By reason thereof, and in order to optimize the efforts of the President to carry out the tasks needed to implement the aforementioned policy, it is imperative to grant him emergency powers subject limitations," it read.

One of these powers was the authority to "temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the COVID-19 emergency as determined by the President."

These include hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers and serve as quarantine areas, public transportation systems to carry health, emergency and frontline personnel and other persons, and telecommunication entities to facilitate continuous communication between the government and public.

The bill also grants Duterte authority to take charge in the procurement of goods and personal protective equipment, medicine, and other medical supplies, as needed.

At the same time, the measure grants Duterte the authority to regulate traffic and limit the operation of land, sea, air and rail transportation, both public and private.

It also allows the President to "reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation" in the 2020 national budget "for whatever purpose the President may deem necessary" to combat the spread of COVID-19, and cancel appropriated programs, projects and activities to generate savings.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will hold a special session, which Duterte himself called, on Monday at 10 a.m. to take up measures to address the COVID-19 threat.

The two houses are initially expected to approve a measure granting authority to Duterte to realign available national budget funds to be used to address the COVID-19 situation.

Sotto earlier on Sunday, however, said the Senate will not allow Duterte to takeover such businesses, as he said the main proposal of the bill is to distribute cash to the 16.5 million families that need help. 

"Secondly, I was instrumental in telling the executive dept 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," added Sotto.

On March 17, the entirety of Luzon was placed under an enhanced community quarantine until April 12, 2020, restricting travel within the region in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. — DVM/KG, GMA News