Bayanihan Act effective until June 5, new law underway

Instead of merely extending the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, senators will be passing a new legislation that would grant President Rodrigo Duterte additional special powers than the soon-to-expire measure.

Malacañang earlier said that it "prefers" the Bayanihan Act to be extended for 3 more months, or until September 2020. But the upper chamber seems to have a better plan.

Senate Bill No. 1564 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill seeks to improve Republic Act 11469 or the first Bayanihan Act – which essentially adopts the 30 special powers granted under the latter and adds new ones on top of it.

SB 1564 also seeks to appropriate an additional P140 billion to support the government's coronavirus measures.

RA 11469 is effective until June 5, or before Congress adjourns indefinitely. Powers, which Congress authorized to the President under emergency measures such as RA 11469, "shall cease upon the next adjournment," according to Article VI Section 23 (2) of the Constitution.

But the Senate is pressed for time. The upper chamber then has two options: to request for a special session or to ask Malacañang to certify the bill as urgent so the measure can be passed on 2nd and 3rd reading on the same day.

The Senate seemed to be more inclined with the latter. Senate President Vicente Sotto III told Rappler that a special session won't be needed. "We will pass it by Thursday, (June 4)," he said on Tuesday, June 2, adding that they expect the President to certify the bill as urgent.

A certification from the President may also prompt the House of Representatives to adopt the Senate bill. The lower chamber has yet to tackle a counterpart measure at the plenary.

What's at stake?

If the President does not certify the second Bayanihan bill as urgent, then the upper chamber can only pass it on second reading. This will have to wait until session reopens in July.

Without any law extending the powers listed under RA 11469, these powers will cease to be effective on June 6 as Congress adjourns.

The executive would lose the authority to use government funds to give the second tranche of cash aid to low-income families, or give health workers a special risk allowance on top of their hazard pay, among others.

Constitutional expert and University of the Philippines law professor Dan Gatmaytan said that the Constitution "does not provide for an extension of powers under Article VI, Section 23(2)."

"There are two ways to interpret this provision. Either there can be no extension at all, and the emergency measure ceases either through resolution of Congress or when Congress adjourns. This interpretation ensures that the enactment of an emergency measure remains a temporary solution," Gatmaytan said.

Gatmaytan said that the Constitution "does not seem to bar" Congress from extending emergency measures. But he argued that any extension cannot go beyond the adjournment of Congress. He added, "In cases where an emergency measure is still needed, Congress can always re-enact such a law when Congress reconvenes."

Former government corporate counsel Rudolf Jurado agreed. He added: "In fact, even if Congress would pass a new law expressly granting the President emergency powers beyond June 5, or an amendatory law expressly extending the President’s emergency powers beyond June 5, such powers shall still cease on June 5 because Congress will still adjourn on June 5."

Jurado also argued that the President calling for a special session so that Congress approves an extension of the Bayanihan Act during sine die – or from the period of June 6 to July 24 – would allow for the measure to remain effective until June 25 or the entirety of its 3-month duration as provided under the said law.

But Jurado reiterated that any extension made during a special session would also lapse by the end of July 24 – the Friday before Congress opens the second regular session on Monday, July 27.

Senator Panfilo Lacson raised the same issue during the interpellations of SB 1564. After an hour-long caucus, the senators agreed that SB 1564 will not have any provisions that may be interpreted as "emergency in character."

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also suggested that the effectivity of SB 1564 should be set with a gap of "a week or two" from the expiration of Bayanihan Act – so as not to be seen as an extension of the law.

What's in SB 1564?

An updated copy of SB 1564 has yet to be released, as amendments from senators were submitted to Senator Sonny Angara, the sponsor of the measure, on Tuesday at 11 pm.

The updated bill is set to be approved on second reading on Wednesday, June 3.

But based on the committee report, SB 1564 adopted the 30 special powers, added provisos under these, and included at least 27 other powers for the executive branch.

Section 4(a) of the Bayanihan Act, for instance, allowed the executive branch to "adopt and implement measures" to prevent COVID-19 transmission. Its counterpart provision under SB 1564 has an attached condition that there should be mass testing "conducted immediately" in priority areas which the interior department will identify.

Bayanihan Act's Section 4(aa) on moving deadline for loans, meanwhile, has a proviso under SB 1564 allowing consumers to pay at a "staggered basis without interests, penalties, and other charges" until the proposed measure cease to be effective, if passed.

SB 1564 also removed the criminal provision under RA 11469.

Apart from these, the bill included the following provisions for the executive department to implement:

  • Adopt a testing protocol
  • Provide one-time cash assistance to displaced teachers and wage subsidies to displaced workers for two months
  • Ensure that repatriated overseas Filipino workers have access to livelihood assistance, skills and training programs, loan programs, and employment opportunities
  • Provide tuition subsidies to students, who are currently not part of any assistance or voucher programs of the government, but are now facing financial difficulties
  • Direct government financial institutions (GFI) to develop a loan program for schools affected by low enrollment
  • Expand loan programs and credit guarantee to micro, small, and medium enterprises, non-essential businesses, and agrarian reform beneficiaries
  • Provide assistance to the agriculture, tourism, transportation, and creative sectors
  • Ensure proper management and segregation of wastes, particularly from health facilities
  • Encourage GFIs to extend or restructure loan terms for local governments and employees of non-essential businesses during the community quarantine
  • Direct the housing department to fast-track housing loans, accommodate home buyers who want to shift from private bank financing to Pag-IBIG, and waive imposing fines
  • Encourage the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Securities and Exchange Commission to relax regulatory and statutory restrictions and requirements on banks for not more than 10 years
  • Direct government agencies and local governments to approve permits within 5 working days to encourage business continuity
  • For the Department of Transportation not to implement a phaseout of any public utility vehicle
  • Continue providing free and healthy meals to undernourished children
  • Provide loan assistances, subsidies, discounts, or grants to schools, teachers, and students to purchase distance learning tools

The senators also agreed on Tuesday to lower the standby fund under the bill from P236 billion to P140 billion, as economic managers reiterated that funds are not enough to cover anything more than the latter.

If passed, P65 billion of the proposed P140 billion appropriation would go to agriculture, transportation, and tourism sectors. The rest would be appropriated for the procurement of test kits and medical equipment and capital infusion to GFIs – the breakdown of which are yet to be identified.

Before the 6-hour Tuesday interpellation of SB 1564 ended, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said, "Malacañang is waiting for the final [version] for them to agree with a certification so we can pass it immediately."

"In the absence of that, I can only commit for second reading," Zubiri said. – with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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