Senators convene for a special session on Monday, March 23, 2020, to tackle a bill that would grant President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to address the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. (Louie Sauro Millang/Senate PRIB)

Minority senators on Monday called for “real solutions” to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as mass testing, provisions for personal protective equipment and social safetynets, as their majority counterparts called for emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“I fully support the allocation of a supplemental budget to boost the government’s efforts to immediately contain the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, the proposed grant of additional powers to the Executive Branch are clearly unnecessary to address the most pressing needs of health workers, Covid-19 patients, and poor Filipinos alike in this critical period,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.

“The people need real solutions that present an overall health strategy to contain Covid-19 and protect the public’s well-being: more funds to expand our health capacity, more economic safety nets, more testing and care for Covid-19 patients,” she added.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said emergency powers contemplated under the original draft bill sent by Malacañang to Congress would be unconstitutional.

“Nababahala kami na ang isinumiteng draft bill na nanghihingi ng emergency powers ay may mga probisyong labag sa Saligang Batas. Sa Section 6 on Penalties, hindi pwedeng gumawa ng penal laws ang ehekutibo. Trabaho ng mga senador at kongresista iyan,” the Liberal Party leader said.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima opposed the proposed takeover of utilities and private businesses such as hotels.

“The President already has broad powers to implement community quarantine, regulate traffic of goods, enforce laws against hoarding and profiteering, and conduct mass-testing and other public health programs,” she said in a statement.

“I have serious doubts as to the capacity of our present government to take-over and operate private establishments. In taking over their operations, we will not only lose allies against COVID-19, we will also incur serious losses in our economy, now and in the future,” she added.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, a Duterte ally and sister of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, sponsored the measure and said this would allow the president to “move and reallocate funds to where they are most urgently needed and create new budget items for new programs.”

She said the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” seeks a three-month state of national emergency and:

  • authorize the President to reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) as may be necessary and beneficial to fund measures that will respond to the Covid-19 emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities and the recovery and rehabilitation;
  • allocate cash, funds, and investments held by any government-owned or controlled corporation (GOCC) or any national government agency as necessary to address the Covid-19 crisis; and
  • authorize the president to undertake such other measures as may be reasonable and necessary to enable the government to carry out the mandates of this proposal.

“The best way to defeat this disease is to be ahead of it, and these powers will allow the President and our public health authorities to act as swiftly as they need to,” Cayetano said.

Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, the president’s top aide, said extra powers to be given to Duterte “must be for a limited period only, subject to restrictions, and solely to be exercised within what is deemed necessary to put an end to this crisis and to support those who are affected by it.”

“The Constitution and all other laws that protect the rights of the people will remain in full force and effect,” he said in his co-sponsorship speech. (