Duterte has ‘no intent’ to abuse special powers on COVID-19 crisis—Medialdea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 23) – President Rodrigo Duterte will not abuse his proposed special powers, should both chambers of Congress give him the full authority to act on the COVID-19 crisis in the country, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea assured Monday.

“We assure Congress and our countrymen that this administration has no intent to abuse the powers we are asking of you today,” said Medialdea, who addressed the House Committee of the Whole, during the deliberation of the lower chamber on House Bill 6616.

The House version of the measure seeks to declare a national emergency arising from the COVID-19 crisis, and authorizes the President to exercise powers necessary to carry out the declared national policy on the issue.

“Our legislators would note that the powers we have requested today have their own expiry date as they will last only as long as the COVID-19 crisis would last and Congress itself will be able to closely monitor the actions of the Executive through the oversight committee to be created by the proposed law,” Medialdea said.

Citing the earlier declaration of martial law in Mindanao, Medialdea said the administration did not do away with democracy in the south, after fighters from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups laid siege to Marawi in 2017.

“When this administration declared martial law in Mindanao, there were similar speculations that we were about to do away with our democratic institutions but martial law in Mindanao came and went peacefully without the abuse prevalent in martial law,” he said.

On Sunday, both chambers of Congress confirmed that they have received a draft bill from Malacañang seeking to allow Duterte to lead COVID-19 responses through certain special powers while the Philippines is under a state of calamity.

Among the controversial provisions of the measure is the proposal to allow Duterte to take over businesses, hospitals, and public utilities to maximize necessary resources, a move vehemently rejected by Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. He noted that such provision will not be supported by the upper chamber during the deliberations.

“The intent of the proposal was simply to grant to government a standby power--a power which we do not consider necessary to be exercised at all times,” Medialdea said, referring to the particular provision.

He added: “The virus we are up against is so unpredictable and can spread rapidly in the community. The power to take over is intended merely as a standby power even when the crisis reaches its worst, even when our institutions are nearing shutdown, and even when the government is left with no choice but to take over such establishments.”

The Philippines currently has 380 cases of COVID-19, with 25 deaths and 17 recoveries.