The House of Representatives on Monday night approved on third and final reading a bill declaring a national emergency and granting President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to address the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
The chamber approved House Bill 6616, otherwise known as “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, with 284 affirmative votes, 9 negative votes, and no abstention.
READ: Cong. Lani Cayetano explains House Bill No. 6616
With President Duterte’s urgent certification, the measure was approved on second and third readings within the same day without undergoing the normal three-day rule in-between approvals.
House Bill 6616 was authored by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Deputy Speakers Paolo Duterte and Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr., and House appropriations committee chair Eric Go Yap.
The bill seeks to adopt a national policy to address the public health emergency situation by mitigating Covid-19 transmission; mobilizing assistance in the provision of basic necessities to affected individuals; providing healthcare such as medical tests and treatments; and undertaking a program for recovery and rehabilitation, including a social amelioration program and provision of safety nets to all affected sectors.
The bill shall authorize the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out the proposed national policy “for a limited period and subject to restrictions”, therefore allowing him to adopt and implement measures to minimize further COVID-19 transmission.
Direct operation of private hospitalsWhen the public interest so requires, it grants the President the power to direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers or serve as quarantine areas or temporary medical facilities;
Similarly, public transportation can also be directed to ferry health workers to hospitals.
Realignment, reallocation of budgetsIt shall allow the President to reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation in the 2020 national budget to fund measures to address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities, as well as recovery and rehabilitation of affected areas.
Government programs, projects, and activities in the 2019 and 2020 budgets can be discontinued to generate savings and augment allocations for the COVID-19 response.
The following items in the budget shall be prioritized for augmentation: the operational budgets of government hospitals (primarily those identified for treatment of COVID-19), emergency preparedness and response, quick response fund under the Department of Health; the operational budget of the Philippine General Hospital under the University of the Philippines; the National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund or the Calamity Fund; and allocations to local government units.
The Chief Executive can also allocate cash, funds, and investments held by any government-owned or controlled corporation (GOCC) or any national government agency for whatever purpose deemed necessary and desirable to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Expediting procurement, testingAccreditation of testing kits shall be expedited and streamlined. Prompt testing of patients under investigation and persons under monitoring shall be facilitated, as well as the compulsory and immediate isolation and treatment of patients.
It shall authorize the President to procure, in the most expeditious manner, essential goods and services such as medical supplies, rented venues for quarantine centers, temporary medical facilities, and other services needed by the public healthcare system during the health emergency as exceptions to the Procurement Law.
It shall ensure that the donation, acceptance, and distribution of health products intended to address the Covid-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed.
Extended deadlines, grace periodsThe President can move statutory deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law, and the grant of any benefit, in order to ease the burden on individuals under community quarantine.
He can direct all banks and other financial institutions, including the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System, and Pag-ibig Fund, to implement a minimum of a 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans falling due within the period from March 16 to April 15 without incurring interests, penalties, fees, or other charges.
A 30-day grace period can also be provided on residential rents falling due within the same period.
Other authorized powersThe President can adopt measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels, monopolies, and other unscrupulous business practices.
Other additional powers proposed in the bill include: extending credit to productive sectors of the economy; liberalizing the grant of incentives for the manufacture and importation of necessary goods and equipment; requiring businesses to prioritize and accept contracts for goods and services necessary to deal with the health emergency; and authorizing working alternative working arrangements for employees in the executive branch and in the private sector.
In terms of regulatory powers, the President can regulate the operation of public and private transportation; traffic on all roads and thoroughfares; the use of the country’s energy supply.
The President can ensure that local governments adhere to the declared national policy and strategy, while allowing them to continue exercising their autonomy in matters undefined by the National Government.
An expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Program responsive to the needs posed by the crisis, and provision of commodity assistance program for members of the informal and marginalized sector may be implemented during the duration of the quarantine.
As a safeguard, the bill proposes the creation of a joint congressional oversight committee to closely monitor the actions of the executive branch.
The proposed powers will be in "effect only for three months unless extended by Congress” or may be withdrawn “sooner by means of a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential Proclamation.”