Emergency powers vs Covid extended?

SENATORS on Monday firmed up a consensus backing the extension of President Duterte’s emergency powers to allow him to continue steering the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Emerging from a caucus, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said, “I can live with the idea [of extension], but it is up to the majority [to decide]” if an extension is requested.

This, even as senators have yet to get a clear signal from Malacañang that an extension is needed, while legislators from both chambers are rushing the second phase of the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act. They passed the original measure in March to give the President spending authority for dealing with Covid by allowing a realignment of the 2020 budget.

“Are we sure he will call a special session?” Sotto wondered aloud, referring to last week’s pitch by House leaders for the Executive to call one, so that Congress can pass other Covid-related measures such as the economic recovery and stimulus bills.

“If a special session is called, we won’t mind coming back,” Sotto said after the caucus.

Both chambers adjourn on June 5 and won’t be back until the State of the Nation Address in late July. They have repeatedly been urged by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to pass the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (Citira)—now renamed as CREATE bill for Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for
Enterprises Act—which cuts corporate income tax by  5 percent on the first year of implementation, and rationalizes fiscal incentives.  Dominguez said passing this measure is the “best stimulus” for an economy pummelled by the pandemic.

During Monday’s caucus, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon raised the point that the President’s emergency powers will cease on adjournment.

“A simple one-line extension can do; we are treating it as a new emergency given the Palace proclamation,” said Finance Committee Chairman Sonny Angara.

For his part, Sen. Panfilo Lacson did not rule out the possibility that “someone can question [the extension] and raise constitutional grounds.”  He indicated that Congress may need to enact a law granting the President authority to continue exercising special powers to deal with Covid-19.

Earlier, Sen. Francis Tolentino said “we’re all for passage of the bill to allow the economy to recover,” and suggested that the matter be taken up in caucus.

Last Friday, at the Senate’s videoconferenced hearing of the Finance and Economic Affairs panels, Drilon said the minority would not block another Bayanihan law, but wanted to exclude penal provisions for quarantine violations, saying these undermined the purpose of the law, and needlessly subjected thousands of ordinary civilians to harsh treatment better reserved for criminals.

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