Lawyers warn: Proposed powers for Duterte limitless, without end date

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Lawyers warn: Proposed powers for Duterte limitless, without end date
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea together with 21 congressmen hold a banner saying, “Together with doctors and front liners, we went to work for you, so please stay at home for us.”
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — A network of lawyers on Monday afternoon called for President Duterte and Congress to focus on proposing legislation on the allocation of specific funds for the people rather than that on securing emergency powers and concentration of powers to one man.

In a statement, veteran lawyers Pacifico Agabin, Tony La Viña, Neri Colmenares, Jojo Lacanilao and Kristina Conti and the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties argued that the powers Duterte and Malacañang are asking do not have a definite termination date and can be extended upon congressional approval.

"This limitless grant of emergency powers is tantamount to autocracy," the lawyers said.

They cited Section 9 of the proposed bill which states that the powers "shall be in force and effect only for two months or longer if the calamity will persist, as may be determined by the president." This suggests that Duterte will have the discretion to extend the exercise of the emergency powers.

They also raised concerns that the proposed legislation is not an appropriate response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"The issue is not the lack of discipline; thus, the need is not for more draconian powers for the President. What is required is an effective plan to counteract the public health crisis balanced by an appropriate economic response which will provide for the needs of communities under quarantine," they said.  

"Granting the President emergency powers to institute more repressive measures and heavy-handed measures, as what this proposed bill does, is neither a plan nor a solution to the current crisis. Instead of providing relief, this measure may even aggravate the problem."

The lawyers' network also said that such a measure would violate Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the 1987 Constitution which reads,

"No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law xxx from savings in their respective appropriations."

They argued that centralizing the power of the purse to the executive despite it being in the legislature's domain compromises democratic conventions of checks and balances of the three branches of government as well as of their fiscal autonomy.

Malacañang said the president was not asking for emergency powers despite an explicit mention of it in an express provision in Sec. 3 of the proposed bill.

On that same day, however, Congress held a special session tackling the proposal of sweeping emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to address the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the country.

In his speech at the special session of the House of Representatives set for the bill on Monday, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said, "We do not desire to overstep the bounds of Constitution which remains firmly in place during times of emergency."

Provisions in the proposed bill sparked concerns over the Palace request for power to take over private establishments, to which Medialdea responded that this would only be what he called a "standby power which we do not consider necessary to be exercised at all times."

"Congress will make a disastrous mistake if its solution to the COVID-19 is centralizing more power to one man, especially one who believes that the problems of the country can be simplistically solved with the use of brute force and martial law powers," the statement read. 







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