COVID BULLETIN: TEMPORARY EMERGENCY MEASURES
COVID-19 TEMPORARY EMERGENCY MEASURES
UNDER REPUBLIC ACT NO. 11469)
President Duterte has signed into law Republic Act No. 11469, which declares a state of national emergency throughout the Philippines on account of the COVID-19 outbreak. This is only the third time in Philippine history that Congress had declared a state of national emergency; Congress had previously done so upon the outbreak of the Pacific phase of World War 2, and following the 1989 coup d’etat.
At the core of the new law is the grant to the President the power to adopt “temporary emergency measures to respond to [the] crisis brought by the pandemic.” (Sec. 4, Rep. Act No. 11469) The potential adoption of these measures would result in the grant of benefits to affected sectors and frontliners, as well as the imposition of obligations on the private sector. Several of these measures are also designed to streamline or bypass existing processes in order to more expeditiously implement steps responsive to the crisis. The new law likewise imposes new criminal penalties on several acts deemed contrary to initiatives and policies intended to address the outbreak.
Ensuring Health Services and Supplies
Many of the authorized measures under RA 11469 directly enhance the provision of health services and the enforcement of mitigation policies in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The President can, following World Health Organization guidelines and policies, adopt and implement measures to prevent or suppress further transmission and spread of COVID-19 through effective education, detection, protection, and treatment. [Sec 4(a), RA 11469] The President can order the expedition and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing, with costs to be shouldered by PhilHealth. [Sec 4(b), RA 11469] The President could even, when the public interest requires, direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical facilities to house health workers, and serve as quarantine centers, provided that the management and operation of the foregoing enterprises remains with the owners of these private establishments. [Sec 4(h), RA 11469] The President may likewise authorize the hiring of temporary medical and allied medical staff to complement or supplement the current health workforce or to man temporary medical facilities. [Sec 4(m), RA 11469]
The measures the President could take also extend to relaxing or streamlining existing requirements for the procurement of medical supplies. Section 4(k) of RA 11469 enumerates those goods, services, and contracts, whose procurement by the National Government, as the need arises, may now take place in the most expeditious manner, as exemptions from the provisions of the Government Procurement Reform Act and other applicable laws. These include Personal Protective Equipment, medical equipment and supplies, goods and services for social amelioration measures, and the establishment of quarantine centers or temporary medical facilities. The President may also ensure that the donation, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed and that health products for donation duly certified or accredited by countries with established regulations are automatically cleared. [Sec 4(j), RA 11469]
Private enterprise participation in the national response to the COVID outbreak is further encouraged by Section 4(o), which authorizes the President to liberalize the grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical or needed equipment or supplies, including healthcare equipment and supplies. The importation of these equipment and supplies is exempted from import duties, taxes, and other fees.
Benefits to Affected Sectors
The enforcement of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) has led to the temporary closure of businesses or the adoption of flexible work arrangements that diminish the wages earned by workers. The Department of Labor and Employment has already instituted a mechanism for these affected private sector employees to receive a one-time financial assistance of PhP 5,000 during the ECQ period. RA 11469 additionally authorizes the President to provide an emergency subsidy of between PhP 5,000 to 8,000 to around 18 Million low income households. [Sec. 4(c), RA 11469]. The prevailing regional minimum wage, as well as subsidies received under current conditional cash transfer program and rice subsidy are to be factored in the determination of the ultimate amount a low income household shall receive. In addition, the President is authorized to implement an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program that is responsive to the needs posed by the crisis. The DSWD and the DOLE may be allowed to approve temporary emergency standards of eligibility and level of benefits, thus expanding the number of entitled welfare recipients to include those who are not currently recipients of the current 4Ps program. [Sec. 4(cc), RA 11469]
The emergence of the outbreak had also coincided with the approach of looming deadlines for the payment of taxes and the filing of regulatory corporate compliance submissions. While the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Securities and Exchange Commission have already extended these deadlines, the President is now further empowered by Section 4(z) of RA 11469 to move statutory deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law, and the grant of any benefit, in order to ease the burden on individuals under Community Quarantine;
Some of the temporary emergency measures the President may authorize help assure the continued availability of essential goods, especially food and medicine. The President may adopt measures as may reasonably be necessary to facilitate and/or minimize disruption to the supply chain, especially for basic commodities and services to the maximum extent possible. [Sec 4(p), RA 11469] The President also retains the power to enforce measures against hoarding, profiteering, price manipulation, product deception, and anti-competitive practices that affect, among others, the supply, distribution and movement of food, clothing, hygiene and sanitation products,medicine and medical supplies, fuel, fertilizers, chemicals, building materials, and machinery equipment. [Sec 4(i), RA 11469]
The emergency measures also particularly support key frontliners – health workers from both the public and private sector. Compensation is assured health workers who contract COVID-19 or die while fighting the pandemic [Sec 4(f), RA 11469], as well as full Philhealth coverage of all their medical expenses. [Sec 4(e), RA 11469] Public health workers are further assured of a COVID-19 special risk allowance, in addition to the hazard pay they are already entitled to under previous law. [Sec 4(d), RA 11469]
Obligations/Impositions on Private Sector
As earlier mentioned, RA 11469 authorizes, when the public interest requires, the President to direct the operation of any privately-owned hospitals and medical facilities. While initial legislative discussions had contemplated a wider “takeover” power covering public utilities and businesses affected with public interest, the final language of the law confines the scope of privately-owned enterprises whose control may be temporarily ceded to just medical facilities. RA 14469 nonetheless authorizes certain government interventions that affect or regulate the operations of private enterprises for the purpose of addressing the crisis and ameliorating its effect on the general public.
Section 4(aa) of RA 11469 allows the president to direct all banks, quasi-banks, financing companies,lending companies, and other financial institutions to implement a
minimum of a thirty (30)-day grace period for the payment of all loans and credit card payments that fall due within the period of ECQ without incurring interests, penalties, fees, or other charges. Some banks have already voluntarily extended the deadlines for loan and credit card payments; the emergency measure which the President could deploy could also guarantee that any such late payments would not incur interest, penalties or fees. In a similar vein, Section 4(bb) of RA 11469 allows the President to provide for a minimum 30-day grace period on residential rents falling due during the ECQ, again without incurring interests, penalties, fees, and other charges.
Even though the takeover of public utilities is not expressly authorized under RA 11469, the President is granted the authority to conserve and regulate the distribution and use of power, fuel, energy and water, ensuring the adequate supply of the same. [Sec. 4(u), RA 11469] In continuity with the policy enacted at the start of the ECQ, the President can regulate and limit the operation of all sectors of transportation, whether private or public. [Sec 4(r), RA 11469] Relatedly, the President may also regulate traffic on all roads, streets, and bridges, and access thereto. [Sec 4(s), RA 11469] The enactment of these policies have already hampered the operations of even those essential private enterprises that have been authorized to operate during the ECQ. The closure of private establishments effected at the start of the ECQ remains in place, with the President allowed under Section 4(t) of RA 11469 to continue to authorize alternative working arrangements whenever it becomes necessary, for employees and workers in the private sector, as well as for public sector employees.
Among the powers the President is allowed to utilize under RA 11469 are actions related to government appropriations. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the President may discontinue appropriated programs, projects or activities of any government agency in the 2019 and 2020 budgets and utilize the resulting savings for COVID response measures [Sec. 4(v), RA 11469], as well as reprogram, reallocate and realign for similar response measures, from savings of other appropriations in the 2020 budget. [Sec. 4(x), RA 11469] The President is also authorized, notwithstanding any law to the contrary, to allocate cash, funds, investments, including unutilized or unreleased subsidies and transfers, held by any GOCC or any national government agency, for COVID response measures. [Sec. 4(y), RA 11469]
Section 6 of RA 11469 imposes considerable criminal penalties — imprisonment of 2 months and/or a fine ranging from PhP 10,000 to PhP 1,000,000 — for the violation of certain acts. The punishable acts are:
- The disobedience by LGU officials of national government policies or directives in imposing quarantines. Notably, Section 4(g) requires all LGUs to implement Community Quarantine standards that are consistent with what the National Government has imposed.
- The refusal by owners of private hospitals and health facilities who unjustifiably refuse to operate pursuant to the President’s directive
- Engaging in hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deception, and cartels, monopolies or other combinations in restraint of trade, and other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution and movement of such essential goods and services as food, clothing, medicine and medical supplies, hygiene and sanitation products, fuel, fertilizers, chemicals, building materials, implements, machinery equipment and spare parts required in agriculture, industry and other essential services, and other articles of prime necessity, whether imported, locally produced, or manufactures.
- The refusal to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services necessary to promote the herein declared national
- The refusal to provide thirty (30)-day grace periods provided under the law
- The creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts;
- The failure to comply with reasonable limitations on the operation of certain transportation sectors or sectors, whether land, sea or air, be it private or public
- Impeding access to roads, streets and bridges; the putting up of prohibited encroachments or obstacles; and maintenance of illegal constructions in public places that have been ordered to be removed
The legality of certain provisions of RA 11469, such as the penalization of spreading “false information”, have already come into challenge; judicial clarification or action may very well come later. As with all other laws, the validity and the interpretation of RA 11469 has to be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Section 4(ee) does acknowledge this, requiring that any such other measures as may be reasonable and necessary to enable the President to carry out the declared national COVID policy is subject to the Bill of Rights and other constitutional guarantees.
Other safeguard measures have been instituted by Congress in RA 11469. The President is obliged to submit a weekly report to Congress of all acts performed under the law, including as to the use and allocation of funds pursuant to the law. [Sec. 5, RA 11469] The submission of the report is consonant with the oversight function of Congress, exercised in this case through a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee that is mandated to determine whether the acts, orders, rules and regulations imposed are within the restrictions provided by the law. Another vital safeguard measure, as provided for in Section 9 of RA 11469, is the 3-month limitation for the authorized powers. Congress is entitled to withdraw the grant to emergency powers even before the 3-month period, as well as to exercise the sole prerogative whether the extension of the period is warranted.