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Senate passes bill giving Duterte additional powers vs. COVID-19

Voting 12-0, the Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading an urgent measure to give President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to stop the spread of COVID-19 and address its impact on the country.

Some senators, who could not physically make it to the session, manifested their respective votes via phone calls.

Only one, Senator Risa Hontiveros, expressed a negative vote via the phoned-in manifestations.

Senate Bill No. 1418, titled "Bayanihan to Heal as One Act" and introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano, gave authority to Duterte to realign available government budget as the country faces a health emergency.

Duterte would be allowed to "move funds as needed under the General Appropriations Act from non-essential to essential items that are required for fighting COVID-19," according to Cayetano who sponsored the bill on the floor.

She added that the President may also reallocate the P175 billion available cash and its equivalent from various government-owned or controlled corporations.

Another P100 billion fund from different national government agencies' accounts may be tapped to support programs against the health and economic threats of the contagion.

The 2020 spending program of P4.1 trillion will be kept intact, Cayetano assured.

Monthly allowance for poor families

The proposed measure is the flexibility of releasing emergency subsidies to 18 million low-income Filipino families in the country who may starve while the enhanced community quarantine is being implemented.

Each low-income household is projected to receive around P5,000 to P8,000 per month for two months from various national government and local government programs, "whether in cash or kind, but mostly food," according to Cayetano who sponsored the bill on the floor.

"The exact amount is determined in proportion to the minimum wage of their respective region," Cayetano said.

Power over private hospitals, transportation facilities

Unlike the draft bill submitted by Malacanang to Congress which sought the takeover of certain utilities and businesses, the Senate version specified conditions necessary for the President to control specific enterprises.

The proposed measure only empowered the President to temporarily direct the operations of "privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and other establishments," when the public interest so requires.

The said facilities may be used as temporary housing for health workers, as quarantine areas, or aid distribution locations. Public transportation facilities may also be used to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel.

"The management and operation of the foregoing enterprises shall be retained by the owners of the enterprise, who shall render a full accounting to the President or his duly authorized representative," the bill read.

It also indicated that the President may take over the operations of the said enterprises—subject to limits and safeguards of the Constitution—if the said establishments "unjustifiably refuse or signify that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises" for COVID-19 response.

Businesses may likewise be required to "prioritize and accept contracts, subject to fair and reasonable terms," to deliver necessary materials and services amid the health emergency.

Provisions granting authority to expedite procurement of essential medical equipment and protective gear, facilitate efficient COVID-19 laboratory tests, and provide hazard pay and special risk allowance to frontline workers were also included.

Duterte will be required to submit a weekly report to the Congress of all actions he performed pursuant to the proposed law. A Joint Congressional Oversight Committee shall review those reports.

Once approved, the authorizations included in the bill will be in effect for "three months unless extended by Congress," Cayetano said.

The powers granted to Duterte through the proposed legislation may be withdrawn sooner through a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential Proclamation.

The House of Representatives also approved its version of the bill before midnight on Monday. -NB, GMA News

Tags: covid-19, news, nation