President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night thanked Congress for granting the executive department with “special powers” to address the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in the country.
“I especially thank Congress for granting the executive department with special powers through the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One’ Act to effectively respond to the challenges caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic,” he said in a televised public address.
Duterte made special mention of Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for their “strong and decisive leadership” in pushing for the proposed measure’s passage.
He expressed his sincerest gratitude to members of both houses of Congress who sponsored and voted for the measure.
“I express my sincerest gratitude to all of you for granting our most urgent requests. Finally, the executive department can move, decide, and act freely for the best interest of the Filipino people during this health crisis,” he said.
On Tuesday dawn, the House of Representatives adopted Senate Bill (SB) 1418 that declares the existence of a national emergency and grants Duterte additional powers to act on the Covid-19 pandemic “for a limited time and subject to restrictions.”
The lower chamber’s move to adopt the Senate version paved the way for the quick passage of proposed measure or “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” which was certified as urgent by Duterte.
With the adoption of SB 1418, the bicameral conference committee needs not convene, and the bill can directly be submitted to Duterte for signing.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act gives Duterte authority to realign the government’s national budget as the country faces a health crisis.
The proposed bill also gives him authority to temporarily direct the operations of “privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and other establishments,” when public interest requires it.
It authorizes him to take over the operations of these private enterprises if they “unjustifiably refuse or signify that they are no longer capable of operating their enterprises” for Covid-19 response, subject to the limits and safeguards of the Constitution.
The proposed measure also authorizes him to require businesses to “prioritize and accept contracts, subject to fair and reasonable terms,” to deliver necessary materials and services and to expedite the procurement of essential medical equipment and protective gear.
Once enacted into law, the proposed legislation will only take effect for three months, unless extended by Congress. These powers may be withdrawn sooner through a through a concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential proclamation.
Cut red tape
Amid health crisis, Duterte also urged concerned government agencies to cut red tape and ensure the speedy delivery of basic medical supplies and equipment to health facilities.
“From the approval, importation and to the delivery, everything must go smoothly to make sure that we do not waste time,” he said.
He also warned them from making the mistake of engaging in corrupt activities.
“Kung gusto ninyong magluko, huwag ngayon itong panahon na ito (If you want to make anomalies, don’t do it at this time),” he said. “Do not commit a mistake and we will all be happy and comfortable.”
He also urged fellow public servants to set aside differences and work in solidarity to overcome the pandemic.
“We only have one common enemy and that is Covid-19. Our transparency, integrity, accountability and responsiveness are needed and I expect all of you to exercise all these in safeguarding our fellow Filipinos,” he said.
Salute to health workers
Recognizing them as “heroes” for risking their lives to treat infected patients, he thanked health workers and admitted that he was saddened to hear that some had died after contracting the disease.
“Bihira akong sumasaludo ng tao pero ‘pag mga doktor natin, mga health workers na nadisgrasya, talagang saludo ako sa inyo (I rarely salute people but when it comes to our doctors, health workers who died, I salute you),” he said.
He also expressed gratitude to other frontliners including uniformed personnel, government workers, and those working in basic services such as groceries, banks, food establishments, and delivery services, among others, and volunteers, and the private sector for their alleviating people’s suffering.
No one left behind
Meanwhile, he also assured all Filipinos that government is working to safeguard their health, safety and well-being in the face of the health threat.
“We will address all the different issues brought about by this pandemic as well as ensure the protection of all of our people, especially those who are serving in the frontlines,” he said.
He said supplies of food, water and other essentials will be provided households throughout this ordeal while financial assistance will be extended to those in the margins and the vulnerable groups.
“I assure the public that the government is on top of this situation at all times. We will not leave anyone behind,” he said.
He also appealed for patience, understanding and cooperation by staying indoors
“I now call on every Filipino to participate in this war by following the guidelines set by the national government and your local officials. Nothing is more important [now] than your cooperation,” he said. “I repeat: Stay at home. Huwag matigas ang ulo (Don’t be hard-headed). The outcome of this war depends largely on you as well.”
Last week, Duterte declared a public health emergency and state of calamity all throughout the country in a bid to stop the transmission of Covid-19.
He imposed a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine to limit the public’s movement to accessing basic necessities.
“Yes, things will not be easy. [But] we Filipinos are tough. Mas malakas ang Pilipino sa anumang hamon (Filipinos are stronger to face any challenge). Now, we all must do what we can and must. Para sa ating bayan (For our country),” Duterte said.
“I look forward to the day that we Filipinos can finally claim victory [in] this war and emerge as a stronger and more united Filipinos and Philippines,” he added.
As of Tuesday afternoon, health authorities said there are a total of 552 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Philippines and 35 fatalities. (PNA)