March 25 ------ President Rodrigo Duterte has signed the law allowing him to exercise additional powers to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This was relayed to reporters by his former top aide Senator Christopher “Bong” Go early Wednesday. Passed by Congress following a marathon special session on Monday, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act declared a state of national emergency effective for three months unless extended by the legislature.
Its enactment came while Luzon is under enhanced community quarantine that led to the closure of schools and most businesses as well as suspension of mass transportation services in a bid to force people to stay home. “Finally, the Executive department can move, decide and act freely for the best interest of the Filipino people during this health crisis,” Duterte said in a video message, as he thanked lawmakers for granting his government’s “most urgent requests.”
The law authorized the President to declare savings within the Executive branch and use them to augment the funds for COVID-19 response and procure necessary goods such as medical supplies "in the most expeditious manner." It also tasked the President to expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing of suspected cases and provide emergency subsidy to 18 million low income families in the country.
Each low income household is projected to receive around P5,000 to P8,000 per month for two months from various national government and local government programs, "whether in cash or kind, but mostly food," according to Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the law’s co-authors. The law also directed the President to provide compensation of P100,000 to public and private health workers who may contract severe COVID-19 infection while in the line of duty. A P1-million compensation will be given to health workers who died while fighting the viral outbreak. The provision on compensation for health workers will have a retroactive application starting February 1, 2020.
All public health workers will also receive a COVID-19 special risk allowance in addition to the hazard pay granted under Republic Act 7305. The measure empowered the President to temporarily direct the operations of "privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and other establishments," when the public interest so requires. The management and operation of the enterprises will be retained by the owners of the enterprise, according to the law.
The law also spelled out penalties for various offenses including hoarding, local government officials disobeying national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines and spreading false information about the COVID-19 crisis. Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo assured the public that the President will use the special powers “strictly in accordance with the Constitution.” “The grant of powers is for a limited period and subject to the restrictions contained [in the law],” Panelo said. He also said the “swift and efficient implementation” of the law will “secure the success of the measures established by the national government in eradicating the threat to our national survival.”
“Once again, we urge our countrymen to be wary of rumors and false news designed to create pain and confusion propagated by the enemies of peace and order,” the Palace official said.