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The President Is Now Seeking 'Special Powers'—Here's What It Means

Accordingly, the said powers will only last until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.
The President Is Now Seeking 'Special Powers'—Here's What It Means
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Accordingly, the said powers will only last until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.

As of Monday morning, March 23, the House Committee of the Whole has approved Malacañang’s call to give President Rodrigo Duterte additional "emergency powers" in light of the continuous surge in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. 

Titled the “Bayanihan Act of 2020,” or House Bill 6616, the House's version of the proposal declares a state of national emergency over the entire country. This will then allow the President to exercise special powers necessary to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

A version of the House Bill was released by ABS-CBN News yesterday. It has since been revised to remove any mention of the "take over of privately-owned public utility and businesses affected with public interest," before being presented to the congress. The newly released copy of the bill instead provides for the direction of privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities, hotels, and other similar establishments, to be used for services necessary in aiding against the spread of COVID-19.

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ABS-CBN reporter Mike Navallo posted this from his coverage of the morning's session.

The draft of the bill will now be scheduled for deliberation in the plenary for second and third reading.

Here's what the aforementioned bill entails:

The President will be authorized to...

1. Ensure that all Local Government Units act in line with the directives of the National Government. This includes seeing to it that LGUs implement community quarantine standards that are “neither more nor less restrictive” than what the National Government has set, while still allowing them to exercise their autonomy over matters that have been left undefined by the National Government.

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2. If necessary, direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, and act as medical facilities. Public transportation shall also be directed to ensure movement of frontliners. Granted, the management and operation of the following enterprises will remain with their respective owners.

3. Continue to adopt measures to keep people from hoarding, or profiting off essential goods by manipulation of prices, product deceptions, or other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution, and movement of food, medicine, clothing, and other essential goods and services.

4. Be empowered to buy necessary goods, like testing kits, and medical equipment as determined by the Department of Health, and other relevant government agencies. He may also lease properties to be used for housing health workers, and serve as quarantine centers, and medical relief and aid distribution areas.

5. Require businesses to prioritize and accept contracts to procure materials and services needed for fighting the spread of COVID-19.

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6. Regulate and limit transportation whether in the private or public sectors.

7. Ensure adequate supply of, and regulate the distribution and use of power, fuel, energy, and water.

8. Direct the cancellation of programs, projects, and activities to generate, reallocate, or realign savings within the Executive Department, to be used to support response measures necessary to address the effects of COVID-19.

9. Direct the reprogramming, reallocation, and appropriation of the current 2020 departmental budgets, to be used to fund measures that will address and respond to the effects of COVID-19.

Other provisions from the bill also include ensuring the immediate treatment of COVID-19 patients, adopting and implementing measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and the continuance of authorization for alternative working arrangement for employees in the Executive Branch, and if necessary, in the private sectors.

As reiterated by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and as stated in the bill's preamble, these said powers are subject to restrictions, and will only last until the end of the COVID-19 crisis. 

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“Congress itself will be able to closely monitor the actions of the Executive through the oversight committee to be created by the proposed law,” Secretary Medialdea also assured during the deliberation of the lower chamber. This came amidst brewing social media concern regarding the possibility for Executive abuse should the bill be passed into law. “We assure Congress and our countrymen that this administration has no intent to abuse the powers we are asking of you today."

Note that the Senate's version of the bill, named the "We Heal As One Act of 2020" does not include the direction of hotels in its provisions.

This is a developing story.

For more stories on COVID-19, please click here.


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