Duterte signs law granting himself special powers vs virus

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, March 25, signed a bill that grants him special powers to address the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) threat in the country.

Under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Senate Bill 1418), the president is authorized to adopt several “temporary emergency measures” to contain COVID-19 as well as to mobilize at least P200 billion to help over 18 million low-income families.

Duterte is also granted the power to provide compensation of P100,000 to public and private health workers who may contract COVID-19 while families of health workers who died of COVID-19 while fighting the outbreak will be given P1 million.

The law further ensures a COVID-19 special risk allowance to public health workers in addition to their hazard pay granted under Republic Act 7305.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation will shoulder all medical costs of health workers in case of COVID-19 exposure or any work-related injury.

The president would be allowed to temporarily direct the operations of “privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and other establishments.” However, the management of these businesses and establishments will be retained by the owners.

Additionally, he is granted the powers to expedite and streamline accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing; ensure that all Local Government Units (LGUs) are acting in line with the rules issued by the national government; continue to enforce measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels; and prioritize the allocation and distribution of medical supplies to coronavirus-referral hospitals, public and private laboratories, and health facilities that have capacities to test and care for suspected COVID-19 patients.

Duterte’s authorized powers “shall be valid for three months, unless amended by Congress.”

According to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, the president would use the special powers under the 1987 Constitution.

“The Filipino people are assured that the powers granted the president shall be enforced strictly in accordance with the Constitution. The grant of powers is for a limited period and subject to the restrictions contained therein,” Panelo assured Tuesday, March 24.

The Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, authored by Senate President Tito Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano, was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

It received affirmative votes from Sotto, Cayetano, Majority Leader Sherwin Gatchalian, and Senators Christopher “Bong” Go, Francis Tolentino, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Richard Gordon who were physically present in the plenary.

Meanwhile, Sens. Ronald dela Rosa, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sonny Angara, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay, and Francis Pangilinan voted in the affirmative via phone patch.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the only senator who voted negative.

“There is an urgent need to implement measures that will help address the health scare brought about by the spread of COVID-19 in our land,” Panelo added.
Duterte thanks Congress

Duterte on Tuesday expressed his gratitude to Congress for granting him special powers that are necessary for dealing with the current health situation in the country.

“I especially thank Congress for granting the executive department with special powers through the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One’ Act to effectively respond to the challenges caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic,” he said.

“I express my sincerest gratitude to all of you for granting our most urgent requests. Finally, the executive department can move, decide, and act freely for the best interest of the Filipino people during this health crisis,” he added.

Duterte also acknowledged the country’s frontliners for risking their lives to treat infected patients and lamented the deaths of workers who died after contracting the disease.

“I rarely salute people but when it comes to our doctors, health workers who died, I salute you,” he said in Filipino.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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