Senators junk the proposal of congressmen to give President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to address the problems hounding beleaguered state-health agency Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) saying the president already enjoys vast powers under the Constitution and existing laws powers.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the President has all the authority he needs to initiate reforms in PhilHealth without the need of emergency powers.

“I don’t know what is incorporated or included in their (House) proposal to give the President emergency powers…because as far as we are concerned, most of us in the Senate is concerned. We know that in this part of the globe, the President of the Philippines is the most powerful president,” Sotto stressed during an interview over CNN Philippines.

“So anything that they would want the President to do he can do now, even without the emergency powers, that is what we believe,” he added.

Duterte-ally Senator Panfilo Lacson in a tweet said what PhilHealth needs to fix its mess is not emergency powers for the President but the sacking of its ex-officio chair, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Lacson has been calling for the sacking of Duque accusing the health chief of mishandling the government’s coronavirus pandemic response and allegations of massive corruption at PhilHealth.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, stressed that Duterte does not need any extra powers since the chief executive already has the authority to initiate reforms and reorganize government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) like PhilHealth under the GOCC Governance Act or Republic Act 10149.

“There is no use for emergency powers. We will oppose it in the Senate. The President can reform and reorganize PhilHealth without emergency powers from Congress,” Drilon said.

Drilon, a former Justice secretary, stressed that under RA 10149, Duterte has the the power to reorganize PhilHealth.

“The President has vast power under the Constitution and existing laws to reorganize and solve corruption in PhilHealth. He appoints the members of the Board. He can file administrative and criminal cases against erring and corrupt officials. He can order the suspension or transfer of personnel in the entire executive,” added Drilon.

Fellow opposition Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said he is skeptical in giving the president emergency powers to solve the issues hounding PhilHealth, since, according to him, Duterte had already been given the emergency powers in the past and yet he failed to produce good results..

“Marso pa lang binigyan na sila ng emergency powers upang tugunan ang pandemya, pero palpak pa rin ang resulta. Setyembre na, pero lampas na ng 226,000 COVID cases sa bansa. 4.6 milyon ang patuloy na walang trabaho. Wala sa emergency powers ang solusyon,” Pangilinan said.

The lawmaker pointed out that local government units (LGU) are able to do their jobs well even without extra authorities given to them.

“Ang ating mga LGU, bagama’t limitado ang resources at walang emergency powers, kinakayang solusyunan ang iba’t ibang mga problema. Nariyan ang Pasig na nakakapagbigay ng e-learning kits sa kanilang mga kabataan. Nariyan ang Baguio na pinagtibay ang kanilang contact-tracing. Ang iba, naging strikto sa mga lumalabas pasok sa kanilang mga lugar. Iyong iba, naghanap ng paraan upang mapadami ang testing na ginagawa sa kanilang bayan. Maraming pwedeng ibang solusyon sa mga problema, hindi emergency powers,” Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan suggested that the first step to solve PhilHealth’s woes is to fire Duque.

“Kung seryoso talaga silang ayusin ang PhilHealth at tugunan ang COVID, sibakin nila si Duque at sampahan ng kaso ang mga nasa likod ng overpricing ng test kits, testing machines, at ng bilyong binulsa sa PhilHealth ng Mindanao mafia. Yan ang solusyon, hindi emergency powers,” Pangilinan said.  Rommel F. Lopez