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Senate gives Duterte special powers to deal with COVID-19

By Hannah Torregoza

Voting 12-0, the Senate has approved the bill that would grant President Rodrigo Duterte special powers to deal with the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 outbreak in the country.



The measure, Senate Bill No. 1418, the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” (in substitution of Senate Bill No. 1413) was sponsored by Senator Pia Cayetano, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, after the Senate and House of Representatives convened for a Special Session, on March 23, to tackle the measure.

The bill will also place the whole country under a state of national emergency. It also gives the President special powers for three months, “unless extended by Congress.”

The measure seeks to authorize the President “to reprogram, reallocate, and realign” any appropriation in the 2020 General Appropriations Act as may be necessary and beneficial to fund measures that will respond to the COVID-10 emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities and their recovery and rehabilitation.

It also seeks to allocate cash, funds, and investments held by any government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) or any national government agency as necessary to address the health crisis.

Cayetano, in her sponsorship speech, said the measure aims to secure the welfare of the 24.6 million Filipino families, particularly the 18 million families who are poor or from the informal sector who were directly affected by the government’s enhanced community quarantine.

The immediate goal of the bill, Cayetano said, is to provide each of these 18 million families with P5,000 to P8,000 a month for the next two months from various national government and local government programs, in cash or kind.

The exact amount would be determined in proportion to the minimum wage of their respective region.

Among the amendments the Senate included is helping health workers who have been and will be infected with COVID-19 and giving financial assistance to health workers who died of the disease.

Under the Senate version of the bill, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) will shoulder the medical expenses of both public and private health workers “in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any other work-related injury or disease during the duration of the emergency.”

Under the measure, Congress will keep the 2020 spending program of P4.1-trillion intact and give the President the power, as needed, to move funds within the GAA from non-essential to essential items that are required in fighting COVID-19.”

The measure is in substitution of Senate Bill No. 1413, earlier filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Cayetano.

The Senate version of the COVID aid bill primarily seeks to utilize the P175-billion available cash and its equivalent in various government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC) accounts and the P100-billion from various national government agencies’ accounts.

The bill also empowers the President to temporarily direct the operations of “privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities, including passenger vessels and other establishments,” when the public interest so requires.

According to the bill, these facilities may be used as temporary housing for health workers, as quarantine areas, or aid distribution locations. Public transportation facilities may also be used to ferry health, emergency, and front line personnel.

Also under the bill, the management and operation of private enterprise shall be retained by the owners of the enterprise, who shall render a full accounting to the President or his duly authorized representative.

Source: Manila Bulletin

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