By Hannah Torregoza
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on Friday urged senators to repeal a section of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Republic Act 11469, which penalizes violators of COVID-19 protocols set by the government.
Drilon said he can support the extension of the law, provided that Congress repeals Section 6, which tackles the penal provision of the law.
“The way I have seen it Mr. President, the violators here are treated like criminals. We must emphasize that the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act’s principle purpose is to address an emergency. It is not basically a penal statute. It’s not a penal statute per se,” Drilon said, during the Senate finance and economic committees’ “hybrid” hearing on the various COVID-19 recovery and economic stimulus budget bills.
“The principal purpose of the law is to address an emergency and not punish a crime. Let me emphasize that. The purpose of the law is to protect the health of our people and not to punish a crime. The penalties are imposed only to exact compliance,” Drilon reiterated.
Drilon also stated that some of the crimes specified under Section 6 of the Bayanihan Act are also already punishable under other penal laws.
For instance, the minority leader said price manipulation, while specifically punished under the Bayanihan Act is already punishable under Republic Act 7581 or the Price Act which also punishes price manipulation during emergency situations such as what the country is currently experiencing.
“And so my proposal Mr. Chairman, is to delete the entire Section 6 because the acts in Section 6 are likewise punished in other laws,” he stressed.
Drilon also said he cannot accept that quarantine violators are criminalized by legislation.
“The violators of the law are driven by the hunger and lack of jobs. They are charged for violating the law because they are violating the quarantine rules when they are looking for food. They are looking for jobs,” he pointed out.
“These quarantine violators are driven by reasons of hunger, by reasons of income and not because they are criminals. And yet the way this is implemented, the violators are treated like criminals,” he lamented.
Among the prohibited acts specified under Section 6 of the Bayanihan Act include spreading false information about COVID-19, hoarding, profiteering, and price manipulation.
“In general, we have no problems with the extension of the law so long as we can hurdle that constitutional issue. But in substance, we have no problem with granting the executive leeway, in so far as realigning funds are concerned, insofar as measures to expedite the purchases of necessary goods and services,” he stressed.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Archie Gamboa, who also participated in the hearing, said he will submit to the wisdom of the Senate if the said Section 6 of the law will be repealed.
But Gamboa defended the police saying they do not often use the Bayanihan Act as basis in charging violators amid the pandemic.
“If we run through the cases that have been filed against the violators of the quarantine rules, we have not actually used 11469, because I myself have actually dissected this (law) and true enough, we need the requirement of deputation of other government agencies for the PNP to function,” Gamboa said.
“The usual recourse was RA 11332 or usually the Revised Penal Code when the offender has become disobedient,” the PNP chief stressed.