House approves ‘Bayanihan’ bill on 3rd reading in historic virtual special session; grants PRRD ‘necessary’ powers to handle COVID-19 crisis

Published March 23, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

The House of Representatives, in a historic virtual special session, on Monday night (March 23) approved on second reading a bill seeking to declare the existence of a national emergency and to authorize President Duterte for “only three months”, unless extended by Congress, to exercise “necessary” powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

House of the Representatives (Facebook/ MANILA BULLETIN)
House of the Representatives (Facebook/ MANILA BULLETIN)

Among these are the powers to realign as much as P275 billion in government funds and direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities, and other similar establishments to serve as quarantine areas, and medical relief and distribution locations.

Voting 284 against nine with no abstention, the Lower Chamber approved substitute House Bill (HB) No. 6616 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020, giving in to President Duterte’s request to immediately grant him the special authority to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

It took 14 hours for the chamber to pass the measure.

It was Deputy Majority Leader and Pampanga 2nd district Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, acting Floor Leader, who moved for the approval of the bill.

At past 10 p.m., the House opened the period of individual amendments to the substitute bill HB 6616.

It was Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado who introduced the first and sole amendment to Section 6 of the bill. He proposed that the violators of “directives issued strictly in accordance with provisions” shall be slapped with a penalty of imprisonment for two months and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P1 million.

Last week, President Duterte called for a special session for Congress to pass a supplemental budget to strengthen the government’s capacity to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Funding power

HB 6616 authorizes President Duterte to “reprogram, reallocate, and realign from savings on other items of appropriations in the fiscal Year 2020 GAA (General Appropriations Act) in the Executive Department, as may be necessary and beneficial to fund measures to address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities, and the recovery and the recovery of areas, sectors, and industries severely affected.”

“All amounts so reprogrammed, reallocated or realigned shall be deemed automatically appropriated for such measures to address the COVID-19 situation,” the bill also provides.

Duration of law

The proposed Act “shall be in full force and effect only for three months, unless extended by Congress.”

It also provides that the powers granted under this Act may be withdrawn sooner by means of a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential proclamation.

Direction of operations of private facilities

HB 6616 specifically provides that “when the public interest so requires,” the President is authorized “to direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities, including passenger vessels, and other establishments, to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas and centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities; and public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons.”

However, the management and operation of such enterprises shall be retained by the owners of the public service or enterprise, who shall render full accounting to the President or his duly authorized representative of the operations of the utility or business as basis for appropriate compensation, the bill provides.

The measure provides that after the situation has stabilized or at the soonest time practicable, reasonable compensation for any additional damage or costs incurred by the owner of the subject property solely on account of complying with the directive shall be given.

“Finally, that if the foregoing enterprises unjustifiably refuse or signified that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises for the purpose stated herein, the President may take over their operations subject to the limits and safeguards enshrined in the Constitution,” Section 4 of HB 6616 provides.

Unutilized or unreleased balance

HB 6616 also provides that any unutilized or unreleased balance in a special purpose fund, as of the date of declaration of a state of emergency, shall be considered to have their purpose abandoned for the duration of the state of emergency.

“All such unspent, unutilized, or unreleased money or funds sourced from collections or receipts, including future collections and receipts, shall be utilized and are hereby appropriated for such measures to address the COVID-19 situation and accomplish the declared national policy herein,” it said.

Under the bill, the President is also authorized to allocate cash, funds, investments, including unutilized or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any government-owned or -controlled corporation (GOCC) or any national government agency in order to address the COVID-19 emergency.

Discontinuance of programs, projects, activities

HB 6616 also empowers President Duterte to direct the discontinuance of appropriated programs, projects, or activities (P/A/P) of any agency of the Executive Department, including GOCCs in the FYs 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), whether released or unreleased the allotments for which remain obligated.

It provides that the savings generated therefrom will be used to “augment the allocation for any item for support operations, response measures, which are necessary, or beneficial in order to address the COVID-19 emergency.”

Priorities for augmentation

The following items in the budget shall be prioritized for augmentation:

Under the Department of Health (DOH) — operational budgets of government hospitals, primarily those identified for treatment of COVID-19; prevention and control of other infectious diseases; emergency preparedness and response;

Under the University of the Philippines — the operational budget of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH);

The National Disaster Risk Reduction Fund or Calamity Fund;

Programs of the Department of Labor and Employment, such as but not limited to Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP);

Under the Department of Trade and Industry — Livelihood Seeding Program and Negosyo Serbisyo sa Barangay;

Under the Department of Agriculture — Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program;

Under various programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), such as, but not limited to, assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS), distribution of food and non-food items, and livelihood assistance grants;

Under Allocations to the Local Government Units; and Quick Response Funds lodged in the various relevant departments, such as, but not limited to, the DOH and DSWD.

The discontinued program activity or project may be revived at any time after the national emergency has ceased, HB 6616 provides.

Local government units

HB 6616 also authorizes President Duterte “to ensure all Local Government Units (LGUs) are acting in line with the rules, regulations, and directives issued by the national government, and are implementing standards of community quarantine that are neither more nor less restrictive than what the national government has laid down for the subject area.”

Testing kits

The bill also empowers the Chief Executive to expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing by public and designated private institutions of persons under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs), and the compulsory isolation and treatment of patients.

Procurement of goods

Under HB 6616, President Duterte is also authorized to undertake the procurement of the following goods– which may include personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns, masks, goggles, face shields; surgical equipment and supplies; laboratory equipment; medical supplies; common medicines; and testing kits “as the need arises, in the most expeditious manner, as exemptions from the provisions of Republic Act No. 9184 or the “Government Procurement Reform Act” and other relevant laws.”

Other exemptions from procurement laws

Also exempt from the procurement laws are the goods and services for social amelioration measures in favor of affected communities; the lease of real property or venue for use to house health workers or serve as quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or temporary medical facilities; the establishment, construction, and operation of temporary medical facilities; utilities, telecommunications, and other critical services in relation to operation of quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution centers, and temporary medical facilities; and ancillary services.

Importation of critical supplies

HB 6616 also seeks to liberalize the grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical or needed equipment or supplies, including healthcare equipment and supplies.

Under the bill, the importation of these equipment and supplies shall be exempt from import duties, taxes, and other fees.

Private businesses

The bill also authorizes the President to require businesses to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services necessary to promote the declared national policy.

Hoarding, profiteering

HB 6616 also empowers the President to continue to adopt measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels, monopolies, or other combinations in restraint of trade, or other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution, and movement of food, clothing, medicine and medical supplies, fuel, fertilizers, chemicals, building materials, implements, machinery equipment and spare parts required in agriculture, industry and other essential services, and other articles of prime necessity, whether imported or locally produced or manufactured.

Philippine Red Cross

Under the bill, the President may engage the services of the Philippine Red Cross as the primary humanitarian agency that is auxiliary to the government in giving aid to the people, subject to reimbursement, in the distribution of goods and services incidental in the fight against COVID-19.

Credit availability

The President shall also ensure the availability of credit to the productive sectors of the economy, especially in the countryside, through measures such as, but not limited to, lowering the effective lending rates of interest and reserve requirements of lending institutions, under the proposed Act.

Moving deadlines

Under HB 6616, the 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.

Grace period for loan, credit card payments

The bill also empowers the Chief Executive to direct all banks, quasi-banks, financing and lending companies, and other financial institutions, public or private, including the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Social Security System (SSS), and Pag-Ibig Fund, to implement a minimum of a 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans. These include, but are not limited to, salary, personal, housing, and motor vehicle loans, as well as credit card payments falling due within the period from March 16 to April 15, 2020, without incurring interest, penalties, fees, or other charges.

Grace period for rent payments

The measure also authorizes the President to provide a 30-day grace period on residential rents falling due within the period from March 16 to April 15, 2020, without incurring interest, penalties, fees, and other charges.

Transportation, power, fuel

Other “authorized” powers of the Chief Executive under the bill are: regulate and limit the operation of all sectors of transportation through land, sea, or air, whether private or public; regulate traffic on all roads, streets, and bridges, and access thereto; prohibit putting up of encroachments or obstacles; authorize the removal of encroachments and illegal constructions in public places; and perform all other related acts; and conserve and regulate the distribution and use of power, fuel, energy, and water, and ensure adequate supply of the same.

Alternative working arrangements

The bill also provides that President Duterte shall continue to authorize alternative working arrangements for employees and workers in the Executive Branch, and whenever it becomes necessary, in other independent branches of government and constitutional bodies, and the private sector.

President’s report

HB 6616 mandates the President, during Monday of every week, to submit a monthly report to Congress of all acts performed pursuant to this Act during the preceding week. The report shall include the amount and corresponding utilization of the funds used, augmented, reprogrammed, reallocated, and realigned pursuant to the proposed Act.

Oversight committee

The bill calls for the establishment of a eight-man Joint Congressional Oversight Committee to determine whether such acts, orders, rules, and regulations are within the restrictions provided under the proposed Act.

Important legislation

At the start of the session on Monday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano assured the public that the Lower Chamber would pass an important legislation that would address the national health emergency.

“Today, we want to show the world that there will be unprecedented cooperation between the executive and the legislative, that there will be unprecedented cooperation internationally, that today you will see congressmen, governors and mayors working hand in hand, this is our part, we will do our part, we will help the mayors, we will help the LGUs (local government units) deliver these resources into the hands of each and every households,” he said in his speech.

He declared the presence of a quorum after a total of 299 House members were in attendance during the special session, 20 of whom were physically present at the Plenary Hall.

The 279 other House members were declared on official business and joined the deliberations through teleconferencing.

It was Majority Leader and Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez who moved for the adoption of the motion allowing “members to participate via live streaming, to register their attendance and vote on any matter presented to the body by voice chat, text message, Viber, or other electronic channels using their contact numbers pre-registered by the members and verified by the Secretary General.”

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea had asked lawmakers to favorably act on the President’s request for emergency powers, even as he assured them that there is no intent to overstep the 1987 Constitution and to “abuse” the proposed special powers.

“We assure Congress and our countrymen that this administration has no intent to abuse the powers we are asking of you today,” he told the lawmakers.

Joining Medialdea were Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary (DILG) Eduardo Año and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado.

Approval

HB 6616 was first approved by the Committee of the Whole, led by Majority Leader and Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez. The committee recommended the plenary approval of the bill, which seeks to declare a state of national emergency over the entire country and grant special authority to President Duterte to address the crisis spawned by the novel coronavirus.

“Such authority is needed not only to control the COVID-19 pandemic now gripping the country, but also to immediately mobilize resources for the provision of basic necessities to families and individuals affected by the imposition of community quarantine, especially indigents and their families,” Romualdez said in his sponsorship speech.

He said that once approved, the measure “will immediately and amply provide healthcare, including medical tests and treatments, to COVID-19 patients, persons under investigation, and persons under monitoring.”

Recovery and rehabilitation

HB 6616 also mandates formulation of a program for recovery and rehabilitation, including a social amelioration program and provision of safety nets to all affected sectors, he said.

Powers

“Specifically, the bill seeks to empower the President to order the purchase of goods like testing kits, to lease properties and to construct temporary medical facilities without going through the rules on procurement, as well as require businesses to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services in connection with the fight against COVID-19,” Romualdez said.

Funding

During the plenary deliberation, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. cited the need for Congress to realign P275 billion in government funds to respond to the pandemic crisis.

He said of the P275 billion “off budget available,” P200 billion will be allocated for the implementation of emergency subsidy program to benefit 18 million poor households for a period of two months, and P75 billion to “fund health requirements and other services.”

“This measure will also authorize the transfer of funds intended for non-essential expenditures to essential ones, particularly the emergency subsidies for the marginalized and vulnerable, as well as relief and recovery programs for affected workers and small- and medium-sized businesses,” he said.

“This bill will also allow the government to adequately equip and protect our countless health practitioners who are at the frontlines of our battle against COVID-19,” he added.

20 solons physically present

The chamber allowed only 20 House members, aside from the Speaker, to be physically present at the Batasan Complex in order to strictly adhere to the social distancing protocols issued by the government as part of the safety measures against the spread of COVID-19.

They were Deputy Speakers Raneo Abu (2nd District, Batangas), Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. (2nd District, Camarines Sur), Roberto Puno (1st District, Antipolo City) and Aurelio Gonzales Jr. (3rd District, Pampanga), Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (1st District, Leyte), Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. (6th District, Manila);

Reps. Wilter Wee Palma II (1st District, Zamboanga Sibugay), Precious Hipolito-Castelo (2nd District, Quezon City), Juan Miguel Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd District, Pampanga), Jesus Suntay (4th District, Quezon City), Romeo Jalosjos Jr. (1st District, Zamboanga del Norte) and Antonio Albano (1st District, Isabela);

Metro Manila Development Committee Chair Manuel Luis Lopez (1st District, Manila), Good Government and Public Accountability Committee Chair Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado (1st District, Bulacan), Accounts Committee Chair Abraham Tolentino (8th District, Cavite), Bases Conversion Committee Chair Francis Gerald Aguinaldo Abaya (1st District, Cavite), Public Accounts Committee Chair Michael Defensor (Party-list, ANAKALUSUGAN), Appropriations Committee Chair Eric Go Yap (Party-list, ACT-CIS), Reps. France Castro (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS), and Janette Garin (1st District, Iloilo).

 
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