The Philippine Congress convened for a special session on March 23 to deliberate a bill that would grant President Rodrigo Duterte greater powers to fight the highly contagious Covid-19 disease. Many lawmakers from the lower house were not in the chamber but were deliberating the bill via video link. If passed, the bill will allow Duterte appropriate “unutilized and unreleased balance in a special purpose fund to be reallocated and to be used in government” to combat the pandemic. However, the public has criticized the bill as “overly broad” and prone to abuse due to the lack of a check and balance mechanism. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea admitted in a speech on March 23 in the House of Representatives that the administration originally wanted Duterte to “take over or direct the operations of privately owned public utilities or businesses affecting the public interest” to aid the government in fighting the spread of the virus.
“We are requesting it [takeover powers] this early because we do not know how quickly our Congress will convene if we reach that [critical] point. Thus, for the benefit of our people we opted to include it in our request,” said Medialdea. Since “takeover” powers raised concerns and criticism, Medialdea said public opinion had been taken into consideration. “We listened to the advice of legislators and the opinions of our countrymen and have amended our proposal by narrowing it down and subjecting it to safeguards, in addition to what we originally proposed,” he said. In the new bill, Duterte will not take over private businesses but will “direct the operations of privately owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and distribution locations or other temporary medical facilities.” In the meantime, isolation tents have been set up on basketball courts in the Manila suburb of Quezon City for the mass isolation of Covid-19 patients. Local authorities said the measure aimed to help major hospitals in the capital that have no more rooms or facilities to accommodate those who tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile, Catholics have started praying the rosary online. “The online rosary gives the faithful a sense of community. It reminds people that although we are locked in our homes, we are still one community, one church whose members pray for those in need of spiritual support during these trying times,” Margaret dela Cruz, a Marian devotee, told UCA news. As of March 24, the Philippines had recorded 501 Covid-19 cases with 33 deaths, according to government figures.
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