By Genalyn Kabiling
All government resources are being used by President Duterte to effectively stop the spread of the coronavirus and ensure the safety of Filipinos, Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo made the pronouncement after the President asked Congress to grant him “necessary powers” to implement “urgent” measures to address the coronavirus emergency, including the realignment of funds in the national budget.
The Senate and the House of Representatives convened a special session on Monday to discuss the measure.
“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte issued Proclamation No. 933 on March 21, 2020, where he called on Congress to a special session that it may pass a law authorizing the President to exercise the necessary powers to carry out the urgent measures to meet the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) national emergency,” Panelo said in a statement.
“The President is utilizing all the resources of the government to secure the safety of all Filipinos,” he said.
Panelo explained that the powers sought by the President would be for a limited period and subject to restrictions.
“The Constitution grants the President the right to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy, for a limited period, and subject to restrictions that Congress may impose,” he said. “The declared national policy is to stop the spread of the coronavirus that threatens the public safety,” he said.
He said the authority sought may include allowing the President to fund projects to respond swiftly to the “evolving health crisis” as well to re-align funds in the national budget for food assistance and other programs.
“They are to be channeled to where they are needed to effectuate the success of the national objective of eliminating the grave threats facing the nation and satisfy the food requirements of those economically dislocated by reason of the forced home quarantine especially those belonging to the marginalized or vulnerable sectors of society during its implementation,” he said.
Earlier, the President reportedly wrote a letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III seeking the swift approval of the proposed “Bayanihan Act of 2020.”
The measure reportedly seeks to declare the existence of a national emergency arising from the COVID-19 situation, a unified national policy, and to authorize the President for a limited period and subject to restrictions to exercise special powers to carry out the declared national policy.
The proposed bill listed 18 “authorized powers” for the President, including the temporary takeover of operations of any private utility or business to address the coronavirus emergency when the public interest so requires.
The businesses may include hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations or other temporarily medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and front line personnel and other persons; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.
The proposal likewise seeks to allow the swift procurement of goods such as personal protective equipment (PPEs), surgical supplies, laboratory and medical equipment, medical supplies, and testing kits.
It may also authorize the establishment, construction, and operation of temporary medical facilities, as well as lease of property for house health workers or serve as quarantine centers, and medical relief, and aid distribution locations.
Among the powers sought are to conserve and regulate distribution and use of power, fuel, energy, and water; regulate and limit operations of transportation on the road, rail, aviation, and maritime sectors; authorize alternative working arrangements in the executive branch and private sector; liberalize grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical or needed equipment or supplies; and require business to prioritize contract for materials and services necessary.
Pray for front line workers, shun false information
Malacañang meantime appealed anew to the public to reject false information about the coronavirus situation in the country.
“We appeal to our countrymen not to listen to any false news or untrue information designed not only to mislead but also to create panic and anxiety,” he said.
Panelo earlier dispelled rumors about the alleged imminent nationwide lockdown to be implemented by the President.
The Palace also appealed for prayers for the country’s health workers who are battling the coronavirus in the front lines amid reports that some have died and fallen sick.
“Let us join hands in solemn prayers for our health front liners who daily put their lives on the line as they treat those who have the virus. Three of our doctors have died and a number of them in critical condition due to the corona virus,” he said.
“An increasing number of Filipinos are succumbing to the deadly disease. We must all take care of ourselves because in doing so, we take care of others,” he added.