Patience – not patient – needed

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Don’t hold your breath. President Rodrigo Duterte is slated to make another televised public address today. Not that he loves to come out in televised public address but this is because he is mandated by a new law passed by the 18th Congress for the Chief Executive to render a weekly report to the Filipino nation. Unlike his late Friday night’s unfiltered ranting, the President is supposed to deliver today a dispassionate report about the government measures to contain the spread of the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease, or COVID-19 for short.

This is Republic Act (RA) No. 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal As One” Act that he signed into law last March 24. This was a day after the special sessions of Congress that passed upon this urgent administration bill that seeks to grant “standby” powers to enable the President to slow down, if not to stop the COVID-19 pandemic contagion in the Philippines. His rabid administration critics call it under the acronym BAHO, which in Tagalog means bad odor. For heaven’s sake, let’s just call it “Bayanihan Act.” 

The word “bayanihan” captures the essence of national unity, especially during these times of a health crisis that we all face as one Filipino family. 

RA 11469 immediately took effect. Under Section 5 of RA 11469, the President is mandated to submit a weekly report on the status of implementation of the specific Executive actions in compliance with the mandates of this law. 

Sticking most of the time to his prepared statement to the nation – that obviously cut out his usual cuss words and expletives – the former Davao City mayor delivered a summary of sorts from his first report to Congress last Monday (March 30) from his official residence at Malacañang. Among other things, the President enumerated many of the activities so far undertaken by the national government through the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) and implemented down to the level of local government units (LGUs) all around the country, especially those covered under the Luzon-wide lockdown.

The President subsequently transmitted his 18-page report to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee chaired by Senator Pia Cayetano. As co-author of this measure, Cayetano shepherded the approval of the “Bayanihan Act” during the marathon special session at the Upper Chamber held last March 23. Cayetano is also the chairperson of the Senate committee of finance where it was referred. This is because the emergency measure requires a mandate and authority for the President to re-align the Congress-approved 2020 budget law to agencies and support activities direly needed to suppress the COVID-19 contagion around our country.  

Incidentally, the Senator is the “Ate Pia” of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano whose Chamber also did their own version of the “Bayanihan Act.” Eventually, however, the Senate version was adopted. 

Among other things, Sen. Cayetano noted, the President’s first report the Congressional Oversight Committee obviously has yet to spell out details on how the P200 billion Social Amelioration Package (SAP) that will be distributed to help Filipino families cope with the prevailing enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or lockdown to curb the movement of people and transport of goods during the COVID-19 emergency period from March 15 up to April 15.

Cayetano acknowledged though the President’s report that the IATF-EID has already approved a Joint Memorandum Circular for the implementation of the Emergency Subsidy Program “to download” the state subsidies for amounts ranging from P5,000 to 8,000 each to 18 million low-income families for this month and in May. 

“As such, there is a need to fast track its implementation, as well as the other programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Agriculture (DA) and other agencies as these will provide the much needed assistance to the Filipino families,” Cayetano pointed out.

Just a few days prior to his first report on the “Bayanihan Act,” President Duterte – in an unscheduled televised public address – announced his decision to remove “politicians” in the LGUs the task of distributing the “Social Amelioration Cards” which will serve as the basis for cash assistance. Ranting on the reported delay in the delivery of relief goods to people in lockdown barangays, a piqued President Duterte designated this task to the DSWD.

In her own report to her colleagues in the Joint Congressional Oversight on the “Bayanihan Act,” Cayetano pointed to the President’s decision to delegate most of the powers to specific government officials, “clearly laying down their responsibilities, emphasizing the need for expediency and giving them sufficient authority so they do not have to ask for clearance from the Office of the President for every action they have to take.”

Cayetano also cited ex-Mayor Duterte’s public declaration he would not exercise for now the only two powers that are reserved under the “Bayanihan Act” for the President, which she agreed is “deemed to have the gravest potential impact on the private sector.”

These two powers are, namely:

– The power to direct the operation of specified private establishments or to take over their operations under very specific conditions (Section 4 (h)); and,

– The power to require businesses to prioritize contracts for materials and services necessary for the pandemic. (Section 4 (q))

Sen. Cayetano quoted President Duterte saying these two powers will only be exercised by him “when absolutely necessary.” And that condition is something that hopefully would not come to pass at all. 

Unless otherwise the 18th Congress approves an extension on the life of this law, President Duterte will have to deliver a weekly report on the “Bayanihan Act” for the next three months. Aside from watching out against becoming a patient infected with COVID-19,  we may have to bear also with long hours of patience to wait for each of this televised public address of the President.

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