By Genalyn Kabiling
The standby powers granted to President Duterte to deal with the coronavirus outbreak will be enforced strictly in accordance with the Constitution, Malacañang assured the public Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the assurance after lauding the congressional passage of the proposed “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” during Monday’s special session.
The bill seeks to place the country under a state of emergency and grant the President additional powers for three months, such as realigning the national budget and directing the operation of private hospitals, hotels, and transport firms to augment medical facilities and services, among others, to address the coronavirus threat.
It also aims to provide a two-month emergency subsidy program for around 18 million poor families affected by the lockdown in Luzon.
“Congress has responded to the call of the times by passing the bill entitled ‘Bayanihan To Heal As One Act’ granting stand-by powers to the President to carry out effectively the national policy of stopping the spread of the coronavirus virus disease (COVID-19) which has endangered the lives of the Filipino people,” Panelo said in a statement Tuesday.
“The proposed statute directs the Executive Branch to issue periodic reports of its implementation of necessary interventions to combat this pandemic. The Filipino people are assured that the powers granted the President shall be enforced strictly in accordance with the Constitution,” he said.
He said the grant of powers is for a limited period and subject to the restrictions.
The President earlier asked Congress to convene a special session and pass a law authorizing him to exercise the necessary powers to carry out the urgent measures to meet the coronavirus emergency.
The two houses of Congress passed their versions of the bill early Tuesday morning after many hours of deliberation. The controversial proposal of government takeover of private businesses was reportedly not included in the bill.
According to Panelo, there is an urgent need to implement measures that will help address the health scare brought about by the coronavirus outbreak.
“They include the effective detection of the virus among the populace, prompt testing by health facilities of patients, protection and access to transportation in favor of our health workers who are at the frontline of this battle, maintenance of availability and pricing of essential and basic commodities for consumers, and provision thereof to those belonging to the vulnerable sectors of society, among others,” he said.
He said the Bayanihan bill allows the swift and efficient implementation of measures to eradicate “the threat to our national survival.”
The bill, according to Panelo, authorizes the President for the immediate implementation of measures for the effective education, detection, protection, and treatment of the people versus COVID-19; expediting the accreditation of testing kits and facilitating the prompt testing by public and designated private institutions; and providing allowance or compensation and shouldering medical expenses in favor of public and private health workers.
He said the measure also allows the President to direct establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas or relief and aid distribution locations, as well as direct public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel.
The bill would likewise help ensure the availability of essential goods, in particular food and medicine, as well as the protection of people from illegal practices affecting supply, distribution, and movement of such goods.
The President may also direct the extension of statutory deadlines for the filing of government requirements and setting of grace periods for payment of loans and rents, as well as the provision of subsidy to low-income households and implementation of an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Program, according to Panelo.
Panelo also appealed anew to the public not to fall for false information amid the coronavirus emergency.
“We urge our countrymen to be wary of rumors and false news designed to create panic and confusion propagated by the enemies of peace and order,” he said.