Working overtime on March 23 and 24, Congress approved an emergency powers bill giving President Duterte broad powers to raise or reallocate taxpayers’ money to fight the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory and pneumonia-like disease caused by the coronavirus, and spread cash to the poor, totaling P200 billion for 18 million families for the next two months.
The six-page House Bill 6616 has three major purposes: 1) for the President to contain and mitigate the impact of coronavirus; 2) raise or reallocate funds from the current national budget to implement No. 1; and 3) direct the operation of any private hospitals, hotels, quarantine centers, distribution facilities, and public transport for the use of health, emergency, and frontline personnel and “other persons” (I presume the patients).
The government will no longer take over private businesses imbued with public interest. These businesses will just be “directed” by government agents.
The Senate version is SB 1418, “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”. It empowers the President to adopt a number of temporary emergency measures, including:
1) suppression of COVID-19; 2) prompt testing by public and private hospitals of COVID-19 suspects, and their compulsory and immediate isolation and treatment; 3) ensuring that local government units enforce community quarantine consistent with directives of the national government; 4) when the public interest so requires, directing the operation of private hospitals and medical facilities, including passenger vessels (and) other establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, medical relief and aid distribution, and public transportation to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel and other persons; 5) measures against hoarding, profiteering, speculation, price manipulation, product deception, cartels, monopolies or other combinations in restraint of trade affecting the supply of food, clothing, hygiene and sanitation products, medicine, fuel, fertilizers, chemicals, building materials, and machinery and spare parts for agriculture, industry, and other essential services, and other articles of prime necessity local or imported; and 6) procurement of personal protective equipment, testing kits, medical and laboratory supplies and devices, common medicines like paracetamol and vitamins and iodine; soap and detergents, alcohol, sanitizers, tissue, thermometers and cleaning supplies (I suppose that includes your timba, ordinary broom and dustpan).
The President is also authorized to procure goods and services for social amelioration for affected communities (I suppose that includes sardines, instant noodles, rice, sugar, flour, and gasp, toilet paper). He can lease land and buildings for medical personnel, quarantine, medical relief and aid distribution, or temporary medical facilities. He can construct temporary hospitals. He can procure the services of utilities, telco and other critical services for the operation of quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution, and temporary medical facilities.
The best but not clearly stated part of the Senate version is that the President will give away oodles of cash – P8,000 per month for two months for the poor families of Metro Manila; P6,000 for Southern and Central Luzon, Central and Western Visayas, Region 10 and 11; P5,500 for Ilocos and Cagayan Valley, and P5,000 per month for two months for the poor families of Bicol and the rest of Mindanao.
Senator Pia Cayetano sponsor of the Senate bill explained the rationale for this helicopter money, estimated to reach P200 billion:
“We must be able to secure the welfare of the 24.6 million Filipino families, particularly the 18 million families who are poor or from the informal sector. Our immediate goal is to provide each of these 18 million with P5,000 to P8,000 a month for the next two months. This will provide for their food and other daily needs, and will increase the chances that they will stay home and keep themselves safe and other Filipinos safe.”
“Our enhanced community quarantine in Luzon is designed precisely, and if done properly, to slow the spread of the transmissions, to save lives, and allow us to expand our health system to test and treat our people. This enhanced community quarantine is coupled with numerous measures, which need to be carried out at all levels of government, by the private sector, and civil society. These are urgent and extraordinary actions because this virus spreads fast. We need to slow it down and eventually halt it for good.”
“However, these necessary actions do not come without economic cost. The island group of Luzon accounts for 72% of our gross domestic product or GDP. Without additional intervention, our positive GDP growth rate may reverse to negative 0.6%. If we are able to beat this virus in three months and redouble our efforts to recover our growth trajectory in the second half of the year, the economy can still grow by up to 4.6/4.3%, according to NEDA.”
Cayetano said among the 18 million beneficiary families are “4.4 million households (who) are current beneficiaries of the 4Ps or conditional cash transfer or CCT program. They receive, on average, around P2,150 per month, so we will just top-up their subsidies to reach the proposed P5,000 to P8,000, depending on their region, so that they can avail of basic food, medicine, and toiletries.”
She said “the total Emergency Subsidy Program will require a total of P97.4 billion per month, or roughly a little bit less than P200 billion for two months for all households working in the informal sector, plus P5.1 billion of administrative cost.”
— Tony Lopez