(UPDATED: 25 March 2020) The Senate and the House of Representatives passed identical bills granting extra powers to the president to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the takeover of medical and transport facilities and flexibility in disbursing the national budget.

Normally both chambers pass their own versions and then hold a bicameral conference to reconcile conflicting provisions, but during Monday’s special session, the House agreed to adopt the 10-page Senate Bill 1418 instead of its own House Bill 6616, to speed up the legislative mill.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told House members the Palace took note of concerns over wide-ranging emergency powers and said the Executive Branch would settle for “standby powers.”

The approved bill narrowed down the establishments that may be subject to a takeover, to only those needed to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities; and to transport health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons.

The draft earlier sent by Medialdea to Congress sought a two-month state of national emergency requiring the temporary takeover of “any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.”

The bill, now titled “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” declares a state of national emergency to last for three months, and grants President Rodrigo Duterte “powers that are necessary and proper” to carry out emergency measures and “other measures as may be reasonable and necessary.”

The emergency measures include:

  • P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy a month for two months to 18 million low-income households;
  • special risk allowance for public health care workers exposed to Covid-19, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. coverage of medical expenses for public and private health workers exposed to Covid-19;
  • P100,000 compensation to public and private health workers who contract severe Covid-19; P1,000,000 compensation to public and private health workers who die “while fighting the Covid-19 pandemic”;
  • faster accreditation of testing kits;
  • ensure that all local government units are acting in line with the rules, regulations and directives issued by the national government;
  • direct the operation of any privately owned hospital and medical and health facility 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;
  • enforce measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices and others;
  • ensure that donations of health products are not unnecessarily delayed;
  • procure goods (including medical supplies) and services, lease property for temporary housing of medical workers or medical facilities; construct temporary medical facilities;
  • continue to authorize alternative work arrangements for public and private sectors;
  • utilize savings generated from discontinued programs to augment funds needed to address the Covid-19 emergency;
  • allocate cash, funds, investments, including unused or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any government corporation or national government agency;
  • move deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, as well as the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges;
  • 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 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans;
  • provide for a 30-day grace period on residential rents falling due within the period from March 16 to April 15, 2020;
  • implement an “expanded and enhanced” cash transfer program; and
  • lift the 30-percent cap on quick response funds under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

The president was required to submit a report every Monday to Congress on the implementation of the act.

Violators will be subject to imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million, or both. Violators include:

  • local officials who go against national government quarantine directives;
  • owners of private medical and transport facilities who refuse to cooperate;
  • hoarders, profiteers, speculators and price manipulators;
  • those who refuse to accept contracts for necessary materials and services;
  • those who refuse to provide 30-day grace periods for payments;
  • individuals or groups spreading false information meant to sow chaos, panic, fear, anarchy or confusion; scammers preying on the public;
  • those who fail to comply with limitations on transport services; and
  • those who impede access to roads, streets and bridges.

The bill clarified that no provision “shall be construed as an impairment, restriction or modification of the provisions of the Constitution.”

The three-month state of emergency ends in three months, unless extended by Congress or unless withdrawn by a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by presidential proclamation.

Voting at the House was 284-9, with no abstentions. Most of those who voted against the bill belonged to party-list groups Gabriela, Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers and Kabataan. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman also voted against the bill.

At the Senate, it was 19-1, with no abstentions. Twelve members were present on the floor and the rest voted remotely. Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she voted “no” because the bill gave Duterte a “blank check” with no checks and balances.

Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said “Congress has responded to the call of the times.” (PressONE.ph)

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FULL TEXT:

AN ACT DECLARING THE EXISTENCE OF A NATIONAL EMERGENCY ARISING FROM THE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19) SITUATION AND A NATIONAL POLICY IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, AND AUTHORIZING 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 

Download: Republic Act 11469