Congress removes Duterte's authority to extend special powers, but does it ease fears?
MANILA, Philippines – The final version of the proposed Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that was hammered out by lawmakers early Tuesday, March 23, removed President Rodrigo Duterte's authority to extend his special powers. But human rights lawyers say this doesn't address concerns that those powers could still be abused.
"Not really, because as FLAG has said in its position paper, we don't see the need for emergency powers to be given, perhaps narrow amendments or adjustments to existing laws that would address the needs arising from the pandemic," said former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te of the Free Legal Assistance Group.
In the previous versions of the bill, Section 9 allowed that the special powers be extended "if the calamity persists as may be determined by the President."
Congress fixed that and the measure now up for the President's signature says he can only exercise such special powers for 3 months – "unless extended by Congress."
That the extension is now up to Congress doesn't make the bill less" objectionable and scary," said National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia. Congress has proven that it will follow and obey the President’s wishes and submit to his commands, he added.
As an example, Congress has allowed Duterte to extend martial law in Mindanao for 2 and a half years.
The proposed law would give Duterte the power to direct the operations of private medical facilities, purchase goods in a manner that can be exempt from procurement law, and touch the savings of other executive offices to augment that of "quick response funds lodged in various relevant departments such as, but not limited to the DOH and DSWD."
During the deliberations in the Senate late Monday night, March 23, Duterte's former aide, Senator Bong Go, said that the special powers bill operates on trust.
"We are passing this measure out of trust, and we hope your conscience will guide you in implementing this measure," said Go.
Olalia said the "atrocious record" of Congress and Duterte on laws and measures that violate basic rights does not give Filipinos comfort at this time.
"Regrettably, such formal assurances does not ease the pain of a broken trust," said Olalia.
"These measures, even if arguably well-meaning, will crash land on all of us," the lawyer said. – Rappler.com