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Senate approves bill granting Duterte special powers to fight COVID-19

By J. Jala | 03:56 AM March 24, 2020

The Senate approved on Tuesday a bill declaring the existence of a national emergency and granting President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to address the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Voting 12-0, the lawmakers passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Senate Bill No. 1418), which will also place the whole country under a state of national emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In view of the continuing rise of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the serious threat to the health, safety, security, and lives of our countrymen, the long-term adverse effects on their means of livelihood, and the severe disruption of economic activities, a state of national emergency is hereby declared over the entire country,” the bill states.

All the twelve senators present were Pia Cayetano, Tito Sotto, Sherwin Gatchalian, Bong Go, Richard Gordon, Ping Lacson, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto, Bong Revilla, Francis Tolentino, who voted affirmative.

However, votes from senators who were not present in the plenary were not counted.

Gatchalian called them one-by-one to express their position. Only Sen. Risa Hontiveros voted against the said bill via phone call, while Sen. Francis Pangilinan voted yes but with serious reservations also via phone call.

Senators who have no participation in the vote were Imee Marcos, Koko Pimentel Laila De Lima, Frank Drilon.

During Monday’s special session which continued until early Tuesday, senators suspended the session several times to discuss amendments to the bill.

The amendments made include helping health workers who have been and are likely to be infected with the latest coronavirus strain, as well as giving financial aid to health workers who died of the disease.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. will be directed to shoulder all medical expenses of both public and private health workers “in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any other work-related injury or disease during the duration of the emergency.”

In the House of Representatives, the counterpart bill was approved around Tuesday midnight, receiving 284 affirmative votes, 9 negative votes, and no abstentions.

The measure authorizes President Rodrigo Duterte to “exercise powers that are necessary and proper to carry out the declared national policy.”

The President will also have authority to “allocate cash, funds, and investments held by any government-owned or controlled corporation (GOCC) or any national government agency as necessary to address the COVID-19 crisis.

The measure also provides for an emergency subsidy for 18 million low-income households across the country amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 each for two months.

These include the possible realignment of funding in the 2020 budget and the allocation of funds and investments of government agencies for the country’s COVID-19 response.

The bill will likewise give the executive the power to purchase essential medical supplies such as personal protective equipment, venues that may be used as quarantine centers, as well as other goods and services for COVID-19-affected communities.

The proposed law will also let Duterte implement other preventive measures to curb the spread of the disease— including fast-tracking of testing for persons under investigation and monitoring (PUIs and PUMs), regulation of public and private transport, regulation of traffic on all roads, and ensuring compliance of local government units for the community quarantine standards. with reports from Inquirer, CNN Philippines

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