SENATE President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Pia Cayetano on Monday filed a proposed bill titled “We Heal as One Act” seeking to declare the existence of a national emergency due to COVID-19 and authorize President Duterte to exercise special powers to address the worsening health crisis.
As of 10 p.m. Monday, senators have finished the period of interpellation and had suspended the session in preparation for individual amendments.
Senate Bill No. 1413 states that special powers to be granted to the President are “subject to such limitation as hereinafter provided.”
The special privilege includes an exemption from the requirements set under the Government Procurement Reform Act in the purchase of equipment and items needed to contain the spread of the infectious virus.
The bill also allows the President to “direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical health facilities, including other establishments, to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations.”
The bill, however, was clear that ownership of such establishments shall be retained by its rightful owner/s, but if an establishment unjustifiably refuses or signified that they are no longer capable of operating it, “the President may take over their operation subject to the limits and safeguards enshrined in the Constitution.”
The measure likewise grants the President the authority to adopt measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, price manipulations, product deceptions and cartels, monopolies, and other combinations.
To ensure that the President does not abuse the privileges, the Senate bill obliges him to submit a report to Congress every Monday of each week “of all acts performed pursuant to this Act during the immediately preceding week.”
The Act will take effect immediately upon publication in a newspaper of general circulation or in the government’s Official Gazette and shall be in full force for two months or longer “if the calamity will persist, as may be determined by the President.”
“The powers granted in this Act may be withdrawn sooner by means of a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential Proclamation,” the bill added.
FEEDING WAGE EARNERS
In an interview over dzMM before the start of the special session, Sotto said the bottom line of the proposed bill is how to feed the 18 million daily wage earners affected by the enhanced community quarantine.
Sotto said financial assistance in the amount of P8,000 a month per family will be given to daily wage earners, instead of providing them with relief items such as rice, canned goods and the likes. The subsidy will be given for at least two months, subject to review.
Cayetano, in her Facebook account, updated the public on what went on during the caucus.
“We convened as a body, had a caucus on the amendments intended to be made in the SB filed. I compiled the reports with my staff, consulted with the secretary of finance, with the executive secretary, and secretary of justice on some proposed amendments of my colleagues. If they will give their inputs, I will include this in the committee report. More than half of our colleagues submitted amendments,” said Cayetano, who is the chairwoman of the Senate ways and means committee.
Cayetano underscored the importance of approving the proposed measure the soonest time possible.
“We have to move fast. Do not be afraid of this measure because this is meant to address COVID-19. Share this information with your friends, I don’t have time to deal with negative people. We are going to authorize the release of some P200B to pay, give money and funds para may pangkain ang inyong favorite taho vendor, ang inyong favorite na nagbebenta ng mais, fishball. Sila ang target natin. At siyempre, (ang) health workers natin (so that your favorite street vendors will have money to spend on food. We are also including here the health workers),” Cayetano said.
LACK OF QUORUM
Sotto convened the special session at 10 a.m. on Monday but immediately suspended it due to lack of quorum. He huddled the present senators in a caucus and discussed the proposed bill behind closed doors.
The senators came out of the caucus early evening and proceeded to discuss SBN 1413 in plenary. Senators Cayetano, Christopher Go and Emmanuel Pacquiao sponsored the measure on the floor.
Sotto presided over the special session, with Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian acting as majority floor leader sans Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri who is in self-quarantine after he tested positive of COVID-19.
Other senators present during Monday’s special session, were Cayetano, Go Pacquiao, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Lapid, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Jr., Francis Tolentino and Richard Gordon, who was the last senator to arrive to complete the quorum.
The three minority senators — minority leader Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Risa Hontiveros; and Zubiri, Imee Marcos, and Nancy Binay were not around as they were on self-quarantine.
Drilon clarified that the absence of the minority in the special session must not be interpreted as intentional.
“The absence of the minority bloc in the special session is NOT, repeat NOT, a boycott. We are on a 14-day self-quarantine as we were exposed on March 11 to Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who was tested positive (of COVID-19),” said Drilon in a text message to SenDrilon said he was being extra cautious about being infected because of his elderly age and because he has a pacemaker that regulates his heartbeat.
“I am a high risk person who must take extra precaution. We have requested for a session through teleconferencing, but SP Sotto informed us the Senate does not have that facility,” Drilon said.
Pangilinan said he too, went on self-quarantine as he was exposed to a person later tested positive for COVID-19. He said he was on the 13th day of self-quarantine yesterday.
“Late Saturday night, I experienced a dry cough and I am now under observation. My doctor (my younger sister Donna) has advised me to monitor the cough. According to her, it may be viral or since I have a history of acid reflux, it may be an acid reflux-induced cough. I have no fever. I have no cold,” Pangilinan said.
“I am, however, in direct communication with a number of colleagues who in turn are in communication with senators in attendance so that we may introduce through them our proposed amendments,” he added.
Hontiveros said her self-quarantine will end on March 25. “I am strictly following health protocols set by the DOH and am currently still under self-quarantine,” she said.