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Duterte wants special powers extended

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked whether there was still time for Congress to approve the extension, given that the law was “very complicated,” and if prolonging the special powers would be constitutional.
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) – May 30, 2020 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte will certify as urgent the proposal to extend the effectivity of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which gives him special powers to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

The senator made the announcement at the joint hearing of the Senate committees on finance and economic affairs, which tackled yesterday his bill seeking to extend the validity of Republic Act 11469 for three more months.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked whether there was still time for Congress to approve the extension, given that the law was “very complicated,” and if prolonging the special powers would be constitutional.

“I was just told that – while the minority leader was discussing this, I called up our contacts in the Palace – I was told that they will issue a certification on the measure. They’re just waiting for the committee report from the chairman (Sen. Sonny Angara),” Zubiri told the hearing via video conference.

“They (Malacañang) want to see the version that we passed in the committee level,” he added.

Congress is expected to adjourn sine die on June 5.

Drilon cited Article VI, Section 23(2), that “in times of war or other national emergency, the Congress may, by law, authorize the President, for a limited period and subject to such restrictions as it may prescribe, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy. Unless sooner withdrawn by resolution of the Congress, such powers shall cease upon the next adjournment thereof.”

He said the provision was silent on any extension of any grant of special or emergency powers.

Drilon also sought the repeal of Section 6 of the Bayanihan Act, as he expressed alarm at abuses in the implementation of the law.

“I have extreme reservations about renewing Section 6 of RA 11469 because of what we have seen as the way it is implemented by those who are in charge. We have seen how law enforcers have used this provision to arrest people for acts which otherwise would not justify arrest without warrants,” he said.

“The alleged violators are mostly the poor and vulnerable who are driven by hunger and the lack of jobs,” he lamented.

He emphasized that the principal purpose of RA 11469 is “to address an emergency and protect the health of our people” and “not to punish a crime per se.”

“We should not criminalize the law,” he said, adding many violations mentioned in the Bayanihan Act were already punishable by other laws.

Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Gamboa, who attended the hearing, did not oppose the proposed repeal.

Drilon, a former justice secretary, expressed fear that Section 6 is being used by law enforcers to justify possible abuses, citing, for instance, indiscriminate arrests without warrants and discriminatory application of the law.

He cited the arrest of Cebu-based artist Maria Victoria Beltran and other netizens, as well as the death of a former military officer for allegedly violating quarantine rules.

Section 6 of RA 11469 enumerated several acts considered illegal and are punishable under the act – one of which is the spread of fake news on social media and other platforms – with imprisonment of two months or a fine not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million, or both, to be determined by the court.

Infrastructure for biking sought

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto is pushing for infrastructure to encourage biking, including parking spaces for bicycles in offices, places of worship and malls.

Aside from dedicated lanes for their use, secure parking spaces for bicycles will encourage more people to pedal their way to workplaces, he added.

“It is not enough that we set aside passageways for bicycles. We should also see to it that the public places (are) going to have spots where they can leave their bikes safely,” Recto said.

Bicycle parking spaces and lanes do not require detailed engineering studies, are easy to build and cost little, he said. “If we are willing to borrow P11.5 billion for every kilometer of subway, then this is something we can afford.”

Recto said malls should now dedicate and expand parking areas for bicycles which must be secure and free of charge.

Special session for economic recovery

A ranking lawmaker yesterday pushed for special session by Congress after adjournment sine die next week to pass measures needed for the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

House ways and means committee chairman Joey Salceda specifically called for two weeks of special session for Congress to pass the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA) and the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) or the new Corporate Income Tax Incentives Reform Act (CITIRA), which he said are necessary economic recovery measures.

“We need to pass these two measures by June if we want a V-shaped economic recovery. The economy cannot afford to pass any of these measures later than June,” the economist-lawmaker stressed.

The Albay representative revealed that the House intends to pass the PESA bill before it adjourns on Wednesday, June 3. But without the special session, the measure would have to wait until July for passage by the Senate and approval by bicameral conference committee before enactment and signature by President Duterte.

On the other hand, the House had also already passed CITIRA and is expected to just adopt the Senate version of CREATE next week.

“We have to get both of these measures done now. I would, of course, prefer to have them approved for the President’s signature next week. But if we cannot, the best alternative is a special session,” he explained.

Under Article VI, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution, the President may call for a special session at any time.

Salceda estimates that up to $12 billion in foreign investments have already been foregone due to the two-year delay in passing the CITIRA, which was approved by the Cabinet as early as January 2018.

“Every single week that we are unable to pass an economic stimulus plan and the corporate tax reform will cost us P100 billion in foregone opportunities every week. At that rate, we cannot afford to wait for these measures until July,” he pointed out.

Under PESA, P1.3 trillion will be allotted for economic stimulus programs to jumpstart the economy that plunged due to community quarantine measures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure seeks to provide P155 billion this year to a wage subsidy program for workers of private companies affected by the crisis, particularly by the two-month enhanced community quarantine, and cash for work and student loan programs.

It will also provide P140 billion this year for zero and negative interest loan program to be implemented by the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines as well as loans for micro, small and medium enterprises through the Small Business Corp. and Philippine Guarantee Corp.

On the other hand, CREATE seeks to reduce corporate income tax from 30 percent to 25 percent – at the expense of at least P259.4 billion in expected revenue loss until 2022.

The measure will have a revenue impact of a total of P226.8 billion or P41.96 billion in July 2020 onwards, P89.46 billion in 2021 and P95.36 billion in 2022.

The longer transition period or additional two years for existing firms receiving incentives will also cost the government P32.65 billion – or P3.78 billion in July 2020 onwards, P12.55 billion in 2021 and P16.32 billion in 2022.

‘No martial law’

President Duterte stressed that the deployment of policemen and military personnel in various areas is meant to ensure peace and order while the nation shifts to a new normal.

“I repeat, there is no martial law in the Philippines. Far from it,” Duterte said during his televised address Thursday night. “We are exercising the power of the state to protect public health. That is all there is to it.”

Duterte allayed fears of a crackdown following increased police visibility and checkpoints at boundaries.

“Do not be afraid, there will be no arrest, detention or anything. It’s purely, if at all, if there’s any intervention or interdiction, done by the law enforcement agencies,” Duterte said. – Edu Punay, Christina Mendez