House, Senate dissenters: 'Emergency actions, not powers' needed vs coronavirus

MANILA, Philippines – The 18th Congress has a total of 326 legislators in both houses, but only 10 voted no against the bill granting President Rodrigo Duterte 30 “special” powers to help fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the House of Representatives, 9 lawmakers thumbed down House Bill (HB) No. 6616, while Senator Risa Hontiveros was the lone dissenter against Senate Bill (SB) No. 1418, which the House later agreed to adopt early Tuesday morning, March 24. (READ: Special powers bill to deal with coronavirus now up for Duterte's signature)

Once Duterte signs SB 1418 into law, he would have the authority to exercise these special powers for 3 months, with the ultimate goal of containing the spread of the novel coronavirus that has infected 501 people and killed 33 in the country as of Tuesday. 

Under the bill, Duterte’s special powers range from reallocating government savings to programs aimed to stop the disease, to “directing the operation” of privately-owned medical facilities and transportation to ferry health workers.

The dissenting legislators argued that Duterte already has the power to do these things even without SB 1418. They said that the bill does not address the root cause of the health crisis: the Duterte government’s lack of a comprehensive plan to stop COVID-19. (READ: Why Duterte doesn't need special powers to address the coronavirus outbreak)

Four senators – Franklin Drilon, Koko Pimentel, Imee Marcos, and Leila de Lima, who is detained at Camp Crame – were not able to cast their votes. In the House, 27 lawmakers were not able to particpate in the 3rd reading vote for HB 6616, but the House secretariat had yet to release their names. Several lawmakers from both chambers also said they voted yes "but with strong reservations."

Here are the salient points of the 10 dissenters’ explanation of their no votes against the special powers bill: 

Risa Hontiveros, senator

Hindi special powers ang sagot sa pandemic na ito, kundi political will para isulong ang mass-testing, ibigay ang PPEs at hazard pay sa mga frontliners, at ihatid ang cash assistance sa mga mahihirap na pamilya at nawalan ng kita. Bakit special powers na ang hinihingi habang hindi pa tuluyang nagamit ang kasalukuyang mandato at kapangyarihan na mayroon ang Pangulo? 

Ang hinihingi ng publiko ay klarong programa laban sa krisis na dulot ng COVID-19. Sana ay iwasan natin ang isa pang krisis na maaring dalhin sa taumbayan ng korapsyon at pang-aabuso sa kapangyarihan ng pamahalaan. 

(Special powers is not the answer to this pandemic but the political will to pursue mass-testing, give PPEs and hazard pay to frontliners, and deliver cash assistance to poor families and those who lost their livelihood. Why are they already asking for special powers when the President's current mandate and powers have not been exhausted?

What the public demands is a clear program against the crisis caused by COVID-10. Let's avoid another crisis brought upon the people by government corruption and abuse of power.)

Gabriel Bordado, Camarines Sur 3rd District

The powers proposed to be given to the President in order to realize the purposes of the bill are already in our laws, wisely apportioned and distributed to the many agencies and offices under the Executive Department and widely decentralized to local government units in order to make the burden lighter for everyone.

Instead of freeing the President of the tasks that departments under him are doing, local government units are undertaking, and the private sector is efficiently executing, our approval of this bill will unduly burden our leader with numerous tasks, disabling him to direct the different courses of action for all of us to succeed. 

Arlene Brosas, Gabriela Women’s Party 

Gabriela Women’s Party together with the Makabayan bloc made an effort to propose amendments to ensure that the funds will directly go primarily for health services and and economic relief, and of course for the purpose of transparency and providing safeguards, but to no avail. I also asked for the concrete plans, but my questions were not properly answered.

Hindi tayo papayag na magbigay ng malaking perang pamalengke na hindi sinasabi sa atin kung ano ang mga bibilhin. Hindi natin matitiyak na ito ay para sa kapakinabangan ng nakararaming mamamayan, at hindi para sa bulsa ng iilan (We can't agree to give a huge budget for procurement without letting us know the items to be bought. We cannot be certain that it would benefit the greater number of people and not the pockets of a few). For these reasons, we in Gabriela Women's Party strongly vote no to the granting of emergency powers to President Duterte.

Manuel Cabochan III, Magdalo

By approving this bill, we, the Congress, are effectively passing all the work and conferring all the powers to the President as if making him a lone savior of the crisis we are facing now. Nagawa na 'yan noon sa Martial Law sa Mindanao, hindi pa din nakabangon ang Marawi (That was done under Martial Law in Mindanao, but Marawi has yet to recover). COVID-19 cannot be solved by a legislative measure giving blanket powers to the President, the duration of which is "as may be determined by the President.” 

The COVID-19 crisis requires a whole-of-government approach. Every branch of government and every agency have roles and powers to help in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. We should recognize and make use of all of these arms of government to serve the Filipino people. No extra powers needed, just servant-leaders and our people doing the right thing, proper coordination and utmost cooperation. I appreciate the noble intentions of the authors, but for this representation, emergency powers are not necessary.  

Eufemia Cullamat, Bayan Muna

Inisyal na tagumpay ng mamamayan ang pagtanggal ng mga unconstitutional na probisyon sa panukalang  batas na ito…. Gayunpaman, walang komprehensibong plano ang administrasyong ito at hindi emergency powers ang sagot dito. Ang kawalan ng komprehensibong plano ay magbubukas lamang ng oportunidad para sa abuso at korapsyon. 

Sa kalagitnaan ng krisis pangkalusugan, hindi solusyon ang paghingi ng dagdag na kapangyarihan upang tugunan ang COVID-19. Hindi dapat pansinin ang paghingi ng Pangulo ng emergency powers. Dapat bigyan natin ng ibayong tuon ang paglaan ng sapat na pondo para sa libreng testing kits, pagpapagamot ng mga infected ng virus, at tuluyang pagsugpo sa COVID-19. Gayundin, higit na litaw ngayon ang pangangailangan para sa pagsasaayos ng serbisyong pangkalusugan ng bansa. 

(The removal of unconstitutinal provisions in this bill is an intial victory of the people.... However, this administration has no comprehensive plan and emergency powers is not the answer. The lack of a comprehensive plan would only provide opportunities for abuse and corruption.

In the midst of a health crisis, seeking more powers is not the solution to respond to COVID-19. The President's request for emergency powers should be ignored. We should give greater focus on providing free testing kits, treating those infected with the virus, and totally eradicating COVID-19. Also, has been highlighted is the need to put the country's healty services  in order.)

France Castro, ACT Teachers Party-list* 

Furthermore, this Congress is entrusting to the President these tremendous emergency powers over the budget despite the failure of the administration to present to the public concrete solutions and a comprehensive, health-based, rights-respecting, and people-centered plan to defeat COVID-19. What we are only saying is this: If the executive wants emergency powers to tinker with the budget and off-budget funds, it must first show its plans. Without these plans, the people are left with no assurance that their taxes will indeed be spent for the battle against COVID-19 

We maintain the position that emergency powers are not needed as there are huge funds that the President can realign to defeat COVID-19 if only he wants to: Calamity Fund, Contingent Fund, confidential and intelligence funds, and presidential pork barrel. Sa ngalan ng mga tunay na bayani sa laban kontra-COVID-19  – ang ating mga doktor, nars, health workers, barangay workers, at volunteers – at sa mamamayang Pilipino – bumoboto kami ng no sa House Bill 6616 (In the name of the true heroes fighting COVID-19 – our doctors, nurses, health workers, barangay workers, and volunteers – and the Filipino people – we vote no to House Bill 6616.)

Sarah Elago, Kabataan

Dahil sa pangangalampag ng taumbayan, tinanggal na rin ang mga unconstitutional na probisyon tulad ng pagbibigay ng blanket authority sa kahit anong appropriation sa national budget, takeover ng malawak na bilang ng utilidad at telecommunications, at pagpapahaba ng bisa ng emergency powers sa tanging diskresyon ng Pangulo mismo. 

Sa kabila ng ating inisyal na tagumpay, hindi ito sapat upang komprehensibong sumalamin sa kailangang pondo para sa isang "health-focused, rights-based" na pamamaraan sa pagtugon sa public health emergency na posible kahit walang emergency powers. Nananatili ring vague ang mga partikular na nilalaman ng HB 6616 na maaaring pagmulan ng mga abuso at maling paggamit.

(Because of the outcry of the people, the unconsitutional provision like giving blanket authority to any appropriation in the national budget, takeover of a wide number of utilities and telecommunications, and extending the effectivity of the emergency under the sole discretion of the President, have been removed.

Despite our initial victory, this is not enough to fully reflect the needed funds for  "health-focused, rights-based" means of responding to the public healthy emergency that is possible even without emergency powers. Particular provisions of HB 6616 remain vague and may lead to abuse and misuse)

Kabataan Party-list votes no, mainly because the executive has already more than enough power under the declaration of public health emergency. We cannot entrust this regime with overly broad and vague emergency powers that are prone to more abuse and misuse. What the people needs now are emergency actions, not emergency powers. 

Ferdinand Gaite, Bayan Muna

No ang vote ng kinatawan ito at mahalagang maipaliwang ang dahilan sa ganitong pagboto. Wala pa man ang COVID-19, dumarami na ang bilang ng nawalan ng trabaho bunga ng maraming dahilan, at lalo pa itong lumala dahil sa kasalukuyang emergency. Ngunit walang detalye kung anong tulong ibibigay sa kanila tulad ng pagkain, panustos, gamot, kuryente, tubig at ibang mahahalagang gastusin.

Kaya't muli po, babalik ako sa naging batayan ng aming kritisismo. Nasaan po ang ganitong komprehensibong plano? Ano ang buong detalye ng pagtugon ng pamahalaan sa pangangailangan ng mamamayan? Ano ang mga detalyeng magbibigay ng matibay na dahilan sa hinihingi ng Pangulo na pagpapalawak ng kanyang kapangyarihan?

Nakakatakot na bigyan ng napakalaking kapangyarihan ang Pangulo na ‘di malinaw kung paano ito gagamitin.

(This representation votes no and it's important to explain this vote. Even before COVID-19 came here, there was an increase in those who lost their jobs because of may reasons, and things got even worse because of the current emergency. Bit no details were given on the kind of help to be given to them like food, cash aid, medicine, electricity, water, and other important expenses.

So again, let me go back to the basis of the criticism. Where is the comprehensive plan? What are the full details of the government's response to the needs of the people? What are the details that would give strong basis to the President's request for greater powers?

It's frightening to give such huge powers to a President when it's not clear how these would be used.)

Edcel Lagman, Albay 1st District

The grant of additional emergency powers to the President to combat COVID-19 is unnecessary because he has express and inherent powers as Chief Executive which he has been discharging nationwide to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

In all other countries assaulted by COVID-19, no national parliament has granted its President or Prime Minister additional emergency powers to fight the pandemic, and no other President or Prime Minister has requested for any additional powers to address the public health emergency.

What is needed is a well-prepared supplemental budget, which must be adopted after the resumption of sessions starting May 4, 2020, to adequately fund an economic stimulus package to ameliorate affected citizens and displaced workers, and provide relief to distressed businesses, particularly micro and small industries; and fully replenish the amounts disbursed from the funds originally appropriated to the concerned national agencies which were disbursed to address the pandemic. 

Carlos Zarate, Bayan Muna

Ginoong Speaker, mga kapwa mambabatas: Hindi ang dagdag kapangyarihan,  hindi ang paglusaw sa mga demokratikong proseso at institusyon ang kasagutan sa suliraning  ating kinakaharap sa kasalukuyan.  Sa halip ay dapat nating pagtibayin ang sama-sama, kolektibo, at demokratikong mga proseso at pamamaraan upang tumutugon sa tunay na pangangailangan ng mamamayan hanggang sa mga pinaka-marginalized at bulnerableng mga sektor. 

Kaya naman, no ang boto ng Bayan Muna at ng kinatawang ito sa House Bill 6616.

(Mr Speaker, fellow lawmakers: The problem we're currently facing cannot be answered by additional powers, the dissolution of democratic processes and institutions. Instead, we would strengthen united, collective, and democratic processes and measures to address the true needs of our citizens up to the most marginalized and vulnerable sectors. 

That's why Bayan Muna and this representation voted no to House Bill 6616.)

with a report from Aika Rey/Rappler.com

(We originally identified Representative Castro's organization as Alliance of Concerned Teachers. We regret the error. – Editors)

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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