As the number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines continues to increase, the House of Representatives has taken the first steps towards granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to solve the health crisis, ones that could enable him to, among other things, take over public utilities, hospitals, and even private businesses.
The House Committee of the Whole, presided over by Congressman Martin Romualdez, voted in favor of declaring a national emergency and giving Duterte broader leeway to deal with the crisis, but only “for a limited time and subject to restrictions,” GMA News reports. According to SunStar Manila, the bill approved by the committee, House Bill No. 6616, was proposed by ACT-CIS Party-list Representative Eric Yap, and would give Duterte the following powers:
- Purchase medical equipment for health workers
- Force local government units to follow the national government’s policies and punish officials whom the president thinks are acting on their own
- Reallocate the 2020 budget and use the funds to address the pandemic
- Temporarily take over any privately-owned public utility or business that can be used in addressing the needs of the public
Such companies could include hotels and similar establishments that could serve as quarantine centers, public transportation systems that bring health workers to their destinations, and even telecommunication companies.
However, during the session, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said they will remove the original provision that seeks to take over businesses while admitting that various sectors have opposed it, ABS-CBN
“[W]e listened to the advice of our legislators and the opinions of our countrymen and have adjusted our proposal by narrowing it down and subjecting it to safeguards in addition to what we originally proposed,” he said.
The approval of the bill by the Committee of the Whole gives the wider House of Representatives a working version of a bill that they will deliberate upon for a second and third reading.
Meanwhile, a similar bill was filed today by Senators Vicente Sotto and Pia Cayetano. The bill would also allow the president to take over private hospitals and health facilities, but under the condition that they are still managed by their original owners, Rappler reports.
The approval of the bill by the House committee comes after several hospitals reported that hundreds of doctors and nurses are now in quarantine because of possible COVID-19 infection. The University of Santo Tomas Hospital saw 530 doctors, nurses, and aides go into quarantine, reducing its capacity to service its patients. Another hospital, The Medical City in Pasig City, currently has 144 health workers under quarantine for possible COVID-19 infections.
At least three doctors have already passed away due to COVID-19, including one whose patient allegedly hid the fact that he had traveled to China — where COVID-19 originated — prior to being brought to the hospital for treatment.