MANILA – The House of Representatives on Monday convened in a special session to tackle a measure declaring a national emergency and granting President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to address the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
It is the first time in the chamber’s history to hold a “virtual” session to strictly observe social distancing measures amid the imposition of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
The session was presided over by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
“We reach today having to pass important legislation to address the national health emergency,” Cayetano said.
Around 20 House members were allowed to physically attend the special session, while the other 279 members participated online via teleconferencing. Cayetano declared the presence of a quorum with 299 lawmakers deemed present.
Among the lawmakers physically present were House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Palma, Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo, Minority Leader Benny Abante, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, Quezon City Rep. Bong Suntay, Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos Jr., Manila Rep. Manny Lopez, Isabela Rep. Tonypet Albano, Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, Cavite Rep. Francis Gerald Abaya, Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, and ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Go Yap.
Also present were Deputy Speakers Raneo Abu, LRay Villafuerte, Robbie Puno, and Dong Gonzales.
Lawmakers are expected to cast their votes through text messaging and other online means to grant Duterte’s request to grant him more powers to combat the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) amid the rising number of cases in the country.
“Pursuant to the powers vested in me under Section 15, Article VI of the Constitution, I, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Philippines, do hereby call the Congress of the Philippines to a special session on March 23, 2020, or as soon as practicable to authorize the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out urgent measures to meet the current national emergency related to the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19),” Duterte stated in Proclamation 933 he signed on March 21, calling the Congress to a special session.
In the proclamation, Duterte also asked the lawmakers to provide him “ample latitude to utilize appropriate funds to strengthen government response against the threat” of Covid-19, and “to continue providing basic services to the people, in addition to the urgent and critical measures implemented pursuant to Proclamation Nos. 922 and 9292, series of 2020, declaring a state of public health emergency and a statement of calamity throughout the Philippines.”
In his letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Duterte sought for the immediate enactment of a proposed “Bayanihan Act of 2020” which seeks to declare the existence of a national emergency arising from the Covid-19 situation.
The bill seeks to adopt a unified national policy to address the public health emergency situation by minimizing the further spread of Covid-19; mobilizing assistance in the provision of basic necessities to affected individuals; providing healthcare such as medical tests and treatments; and undertaking a program for recovery and rehabilitation, including a social amelioration program and provision of safety nets to all affected sectors.
It grants the President the power to temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately-owned public utility or business affected with the public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the Covid-19 emergency.
These shall include hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers or serve as quarantine areas or temporary medical facilities; public transportation to ferry health workers to hospitals; and telecommunications entities to facilitate uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.
It shall also allow the President to reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation in the 2020 national budget to fund measures to address and respond to the Covid-19 emergency, including social amelioration for affected communities, as well as recovery and rehabilitation of affected areas. (ia/sovereignph.com/PNA)