Two admin solons not keen on ‘unlimited’ emergency powers for PRRD 

Published March 23, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Ellson Quismorio
At least two administration congressmen questioned the constitutionality of House Bill (HB) No. 6616, particularly the effectivity clause of the proposed law that seeks to give President Duterte the “emergency powers” that he supposedly needs to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. 
House of the Representatives (Facebook/ MANILA BULLETIN)
House of the Representatives (Facebook/ MANILA BULLETIN)
While AKO-Bicol Party-List Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., and Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez favored the passage of HB 6616 or the so-called Bayanihan Act of 2020 as the legislators’ own way of fighting the pandemic, they feel that some constitutional questions must be raised.
“We fully support the passage of this bill,” Garbin said in Monday’s unprecedented, digitally-aided special session at the House of Representatives, which he joined through videoconferencing.
“Magkakaroon lang po kami ng ibang issue kung saan ito dapat ay alinsunod sa ating Saligang Batas, lalung-lalo na ho yung budget realignment, and at the same time yung pag-takeover ng mga private utilities (Our issue is that it should be in line with the Constitution, especially the budget realignment, and at the same time the potential takeover of private utilities) which should be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the lawyer-solon said. 
“Maraming agam-agam kung saan hanggang kailan ba ang effectivity ng emergency powers at paano ba makikita (there are a lot of doubts on up to when is the effectivity of the emergency powers and how we can see)…we can exercise the oversight power while we are in Congress.
“Ang tanong ko ho, di ba ho sa Constitution (My question is, doesn’t the Constitution say that), when we approve and give the President emergency power, it is limited to the period wherein the same would automatically cease upon the next adjournment of Congress?” asked Garbin, a vice chairman of the House committee on justice.
The sponsor of the bill, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte, earlier said the proposed emergency powers would last for two months, with an option for the President to extend it.
Rodriguez, another lawyer-congressman, expressed similar reservations as Garbin. He also used videoconferencing to participate in Monday’s special session.
“On effectivity, it states that the period of this law shall be for two months. Now, it will be extended as may be determined by the President. Would this not be in violation of the Constitution [which] requires that there should be a limit?” he asked. 
“It says here in the Constitution, Section 23.1, that in times of national emergency, Congress may, by law, authorize the President for a limited period. Now if you have two month plus whatever the President will decide as determined, it would be indeterminable. It has no limit,” Rodriguez explained. 
Congress should determine extension
He offered a simple solution: have lawmakers determine the period of extension, not the President.
“Can we put here therefore, “as may be determined by Congress?” After all, Congress can meet like this now, it is easily done and it can easily be able to extend it if necessary. Just to be able to give it a limit.”
However, bill sponsor Villafuerte didn’t sound amenable to the advanced amendment proposed by the Mindanao solon. He insisted that the proposed emergency powers had a “limited” period of effectivity.
“We strongly feel that this measure is Constitutionally sound…It’s legal. We understand your concern about time. It’s very specific in the title [of the bill], it’s only for a limited period. While certain circumstances can determine a specific time, this virus definitely, hindi natin alam kung kailan matatapos (we don’t know when it will end).
“While we are hoping that we can address, minimize the virus within two months, it should not stop us from empowering the President, the executive, for a longer period if the calamity persists,” he said.
“We should give the Executive the authority to continue functioning if this goes beyond two months,” he added.
Villafuerte went as far to say that anybody can bring up the matter before the Supreme Court “if they think there are flaws in the law.”
Garbin said he didn’t mind participating in other special sessions to legislate another law for the grant of emergency powers, as long as HB 6616 doesn’t turn out to be constitutionally infirm.
“At any time, ako ho ay nakikiisa na kung kailangan ng ating Presidente, ng ating Kongreso na magpasa ulit ng isang batas na magpapalawak sa kapangyarihan ng ating Presidente para i-address ang problema, lalong lalo na sa COVID-19 [kami] ay susuporta,” he said. 
(I will support at any time if the President or Congress needs to pass another law that would expand the powers of the President to address the problem, especially COVID-19.)
The House is expected to pass HB 6616 before the end of the special session, which as of posting time was still ongoing.