This week’s special session of Congress was supposed to pass an additional budget to fight the Covid-19 outbreak. It turns out President Rodrigo Duterte also wants emergency powers to take over utilities and private businesses.

Duterte on Saturday, March 21, 2020, certified the “necessity” of passing an emergency powers bill in a letter transmitted by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, saying he needed to carry out “urgent measures to meet the current national emergency relating to the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19); to provide ample latitude to utilize appropriate funds to strengthen governmental response against the threat of the said disease; and to continue providing basic services to the people.”

Medialdea attached an unnumbered bill titled “An Act to Declare the Existence of a National Emergency Arising from the Corona Virus 2019 (Covid-19) Situation, A Unified National Policy in Connection Therewith, and to Authorize the President of the Republic of the Philippines for a Limited Period and Subject to Restrictions, to Exercise Powers Necessary and Proper to Carry Out the Declared National Policy and for Other Purposes.”

The draft bill states that “When the public interest so requires,” the government will be allowed 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.”

Such entities, the bill states, will include:

  • hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities;
  • public transportation to ferry health, emergency and frontline personnel and other persons; and
  • telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.

It says management of the businesses shall be “retained by the owners of the public service or enterprise, under the direction and supervision of the President or his duly designated representative, who shall render a full accounting to the President of the operations of the utility or business taken over.”

The bill proposes a two-month period for the declaration of national emergency, and states that nothing shall be “construed or interpreted as a restriction of the Bill of Rights.”

There will be “reasonable compensation for any additional damage or costs incurred by the owner or the possessor of the subject property solely on account of the take-over,” to be given “after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable.”

Duterte also formalized his request for a special session of Congress to be held on March 23 “or as soon as practicable.”

The president had issued Proclamation Nos. 922 and 929 declaring a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity throughout the Philippines.

Last week, Duterte ordered a Luzon-wide quarantine and assured the public that implementation would not be like martial law.

In calling for a state of national emergency, the Duterte-backed draft bill claims that “Despite government interventions and efforts, the number of confirmed cases of
Covid-19 continues and is expected to rise throughout the country, as it is in the other parts of the world, giving rise to an emergency of national proportions.” (