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7 Things You Need to Know About the House COVID-19 'Emergency Powers' Bill

A counterpart measure was also filed in the Senate.
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On Monday morning (March 23), the House of Representatives Committee of the Whole approved on first reading House Bill 6616. It’s the so-called “emergency powers” bill that grants special privileges to President Rodrigo Duterte in order to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Many people on social media have been quick to offer their own takes on the bill without even bothering to read it. So we figured we’d sift through the proposed act and figure out exactly what’s in it.

Here are key takeaways you need to know about House Bill 6616:

1| The bill is officially called the We Heal As One Act of 2020 and was introduced by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Rep. Paolo Duterte, Rep. Luis Rey Villafuerte, Rep. Eric Go Yap, Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, and Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr.

2| The bill acknowledges the gravity of the situation and proposes measures to help fight it. “(I)t is imperative to grant him emergency powers subject to such limitations as hereinafter provided,” it says.

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Most of the provisions are expected, including to “(a)dopt and implement measures to prevent and minimize further transmission and spread of COVID-19,” and to “(e)xpedite the medical testing and observation of PUIs and PUMs and the immediate treatment of patients suffering from COVID-19.”

3| One contentious provision is for President Duterte to be granted the authority to "direct the operation of privately owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels, and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities."

The President may do so provided, “that the management and operation of the foregoing enterprises shall be retained by the owners of the publis service or enterprise, who shall render a full accounting to the President of his duly authorized representative of the operations of the utility or business for appropriate compensation.”

4| Under the bill, the President may “regulate and limit the operation of all sectors of transportation through land, sea or air, whether public or private,” as well as “regulate traffic on all roads, streets, and bridges, and access thereto; prohibit putting up of encroachments or obstacles, authorize the removal of encroachments and illegal constructionsin public places and perform other related acts.”

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5| The measure authorizes the President to cancel appropriated programs, projects or activities of agencies under the Executive Department (including government-owned and controlled corporations) and utilize the savings “to augment the allocation for any item for support operations, response measures…to address the COVID-19 emergency.”

6| The President will also be granted authority to reprogram, reallocate, and realign an appropriation in the 2020 budget “for whatever purpose the President may deem necessary and desirable to fund measures to address and respond to the COVID-19 emergency.”

7| Similarly, the President will have the power to allocate cash, funds, investments, incuding untilized or unreleased subsidies and transfers held by any GOCC, or any national government agency for whatever purpose the President may deem necessary and desirable in order to address the COVID-19 emergency.

After the bill was approved by the Committee of the Whole, it is expected to be deliberated in the plenary for the second and third reading.

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A counterpart measure, Senate Bill 1413, was also filed in the Senate on Monday morning. Also called the We Heal As One Act, it was authored by Senate President Tito Sotto and Senator Pia Cayetano.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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