President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to declare a national emergency and grant him powers that will, among others, allow him to take over privately-owned public utilities or businesses affected with public interest to effectively arrest the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
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The request came as Congress is poised to pass today a bill that will grant Duterte the power to realign available funds from government-owned or -controlled corporations for a P200 billion war chest against the virus.
In a letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Duterte appealed for the immediate enactment of a Palace draft bill entitled “An act to declare the existence of a national emergency arising from the coronavirus 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 six-page draft bill underscored how the enhanced community quarantine throughout Luzon
was not enough to avert the spread of the virus.
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“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 other parts of the world, giving rise to an emergency of national proportions,” read the draft bill.
Among the powers that the draft bill seeks for the President is the power “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 when the public interest so requires.”
The utilities or business include, but are not limited to, “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 telecommunication entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.”
The bill, however, said that to the extent feasible, management 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.
Sotto, however, stressed that the President is not seeking emergency powers.
“Nothing there says emergency powers,” he said.
The Senate President also acknowledged that the takeover provision “won’t fly in the Senate.”
“That is the proposal of the executive department. That was not fully discussed during our meeting (Saturday). Therefore, nothing is written in stone.”
During Saturday’s meeting at the Palace, lawmakers agreed to pass a P200 billion supplemental budget to help the executive branch address the spread of the virus.
Sotto said the amount will cover 16.5 million families who are in actual need of government assistance.
He said the “ballpark figure” can still change as Senator Panfilo Lacson warned the budget might not be enough.
“It can be lower, it can be higher,” Sotto said.
Sotto said the country has 22 million families, of which 16.5 million are considered poor while the remaining 5.5 million have the capacity to sustain themselves during the emergency.
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