Proposed Bayanihan Act to grant Duterte emergency powers

Mar 22, 2020
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PHOTO: Jerome Ascano

ABS-CBN has obtained and published on Twitter a copy of the proposed “Bayanihan Act of 2020”, an emergency measure to be brought forward before Congress in an emergency session tomorrow, Monday, March 23.

The Philippine Star has also obtained a copy of the same document. Senator Tito Sotto verified the contents of the document to ABS-CBN News, though he told reporter Mike Navallo in a text message, “After the title, nothing is set in stone.”

He also denied to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that this was a bill that would grant emergency powers.

"Not true. Read the title (of the bill). Nothing there says emergency powers," he told reporter Cathrine Gonzales via SMS. He did grant that the business takeover provision there may be controversial, but it "won't fly in the Senate."

In the five pages tweeted so far, the Bayanihan Act of 2020 proposes to grant President Duterte widespread powers.

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This includes the power to “temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the COVID-19 emergency.” (This is the provision that Sotto was presumably referring to in his message to Inquirer.)

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These businesses may include hotels, to house patients or frontliners; public transportation companies; as well as telecommunications firms to “facilitate uninterrupted communication channels”.

The business will still, “to the extent feasible”, remain with its owners, but will be supervised by the President or his representative during the takeover.

Reiterating Duterte’s stance during his 1 a.m. presscon last Friday, the document also asked for presidential powers to “ensure that all Local Government Units are acting in line with the rules, regulations and directives issued by the National Government pursuant to this act.”

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This is to ensure that the cities and municipalities will implement community quarantine in a way that is “neither more nor less restrictive” than the national government’s directives.

The proposed bill will also give the president financial discretion to, among others, purchase necessary goods, lease property for public health reasons, and cancel appropriated programs, projects or activities to reallocate funds.

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It will also authorize him to regulate transportation, telecommunications, and utilities, as well as enact regulations to prevent hoarding and profiteering.

The preamble of the proposed bill stresses that these powers will be for a “limited period and subject to restrictions.”

According to the Philippine Star, Section 6 of the document also stresses that “Nothing in this act shall be construed or interpreted as a restriction of the Bill of Rights or of the Constitution. In case of conflict of exercise of the powers herein granted with other laws, this Act shall prevail.”

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea forwarded the transmittal letter with the proposed Act from Malacanang Palace to Senate president Sotto on March 21, requesting Congress to convene on Monday.

For more news on COVID-19, tap here.

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