By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte’s top legal counsel took exception to Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon’s comments on the expiration of the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, observing that the senator’s “misplaced” remarks could encourage the public to commit acts that are harmful especially at the time of a global health crisis.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo made the statement after Drilon said there should be no more arrests over mass gatherings, curfew violations, and the spread of fake news following the expiration of the said measure on June 25.
“Senator Drilon’s comments with respect thereto, and with due respect to him, are not only misplaced but it dangerously encourages citizens to engage in acts detrimental to the safety and security of the populace, as well as the peace and order of the nation,” he said.
Panelo reminded Drilon that it was the duty of everyone in government to ensure the safety of everybody during the pandemic.
“The preservation of the safety and lives of the Filipino people is not a temporary emergency measure. It is a solemn duty of the government and those who act on its behalf, including Senator Drilon,” he said.
“Even before the enactment of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the President has been swift and decisive in fulfilling his commitment to serve and protect our citizens. The expiration of the said act does not in any way affect that,” he added.
According to Panelo, the expiration of the Bayanihan Act has not affected the state’s authority or the local government’s power to enforce the laws on curfew, mass gathering, and the spread of fake news.
The Palace official said existing laws are in place, such as Republic Act No. 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act” and even Republic Act No. 10175 or the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012”, which penalize violations thereof with a fine, imprisonment, or both.
He added that local government units (LGUs) have also enacted ordinances that sanction violations of their policies designed to secure the general welfare of their constituents.
“The local governments in Metro Manila, as well as other cities, have similar ordinances on curfew. Violators necessarily are subject to arrest and prosecution,” Panelo said.
“Likewise, there are also ordinances that regulate rallies and demonstrations. Violation of such is likewise subject to arrest and prosecution,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has also stated that the government can still prohibit mass gatherings and enforce curfews despite the expiration of the Bayanihan Law through local ordinances.
The Bayanihan Law, which granted Duterte special powers to combat the pandemic, expired on June 25. The Congress, however, failed to pass a new measure that will extend its effectivity.
Instead, Roque earlier said that Congress has started working on a new bill that would incorporate a stimulus package to assist workers displaced by the quarantine measures. However, he said that the Executive and the Legislative are yet to reach a common ground.
Roque, however, said that President Duterte still needs the emergency powers to make purchases without having to comply with the Procurement Act in order to immediately purchase COVID-19-related medical items.