Duterte’s request to take over private business ‘merely standby power’

Mara Cepeda
(UPDATED) Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea says the power to take over private business would only be used 'when our most critical institutions are nearing total shutdown and government is left with no choice'

EMERGENCY POWERS. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea speaks before the House of Representatives on March 23, 2020. Screenshot from House video

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea defended before lawmakers President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to be granted with powers to temporarily take over the operations of private business during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Medialdea delivered a speech on Monday, March 23, before the House of Representatives, which convened itself into a committee of the whole to tackle House Bill (HB) No. 6616, which would declare a “national emergency” and grant Duterte “emergency powers” to address the outbreak.

HB No. 6616 – which the House committee of the whole already approved without allowing interpellations – is a carbon copy of the bill drafted by Malacañang.

Medialdea argued that this particular proposal requested by the President is only meant to be a “standby power” to respond to the fast-spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“And now I come to the requested power which is stirring some controversies since yesterday and I believe unjustifiably so – the power to take over private establishments. Even as originally worded, the intent of the proposal was simply to grant to government a standby power,” Medialdea said.

“It is a power which [we] do not consider necessary to be exercised at all times because the establishments that are needed to deal with this crisis have, to their credit, have mostly been cooperating with government.  But we only desire such a power to be legislated because the virus we are up against is so unpredictable and can spread rapidly in a community,” the executive secretary added.

He explained that the power to temporarily take over private business, if approved by lawmakers, would only be exercised by the Duterte government as a last resort.

“The power to take over is intended merely as a standby power in the event the crisis reaches its worst, when our most critical institutions are nearing total shutdown and government is left with no choice but to take over these establishments,” Medialdea said.

The executive secretary delivered his speech from within the halls of the Batasang Pambansa, but a majority of the House members listened to it via teleconferencing app Zoom – the first committee of the whole meeting and House plenary session in Philippine history to be done through livestreaming.

Under HB No. 6616, Duterte would be allowed to “temporarily take over or direct the operation” of privately-owned businesses needed to address the needs of the public during the coronavirus emergency such as hotels, public transportation, and telecommunications.

The businesses the bill cited are needed to house health workers and serve as quarantine areas and medical facilities. The measure also states that the President’s takeover of transportation and telecommunication companies would be used to service medical professionals and “ensure uninterrupted communication channels between the government and the public.”

The lower chamber’s rules state that when the House constitutes itself into a committee of the whole, it functions as one panel acting upon a bill or resolution. It will be conducting proceedings just like any other regular committee of the House.

Because the committee of the whole already approved HB No. 6616, the measure can now be tackled by the plenary. Duterte also certified the bill as urgent, which means the House can approve it on 2nd and 3rd reading on the same day.

The plenary session is ongoing as of posting time.

Read a full copy of HB 6616 below:

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– Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.