“Congress will make a disastrous mistake if its solution to the corona virus threat 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.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — A network of human rights lawyers and legal academics said the bills granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers allegedly in response to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic violate the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
In a statement, Manananggol Laban sa EJK (MANLABAN) criticized the proposal to give Duterte the power to realign the 2020 budget of almost all branches of government, as provided under Section 4 Paragraphs, 14-17 of the Emergency Powers Bill.
Such provisions, MANLABAN said, would be violative of Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the 1987 Constitution which states that “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, xxx may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law xxx from savings in their respective appropriations.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate raised the same objection during the interpellation of House Bill 6166 in Congress, March 23. Deputy Speaker Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. replied, “All our actions are within the Constitution.”
During the special session, Villafuerte said that a total of P275-billion government funds will be realigned for the COVID-19 response.
MANLABAN said the centralization of budget powers on the President can “also compromise the constitutional requirement for fiscal autonomy and checks and balance of the Judiciary, the Legislature and other independent constitutional bodies as well as an abdication of legislature’s power over the budget.”
MANLABAN said that Congress should instead pass legislation which will reallocate specific pork barrel items such as the Road User Fund or Malampaya Fund and billions of presidential discretionary funds, to provide economic relief to all sectors who are economically devastated by the virus.
MANLABAN said granting emergency powers to Duterte is not the solution and could even “aggravate the problem.”
“While we consider the threat of the virus serious, the main problem is the economic dislocation of the people, especially the poor, who are quarantined in communities without any source of income. The issue is not discipline or the need for draconian powers; if only government can provide for food and other needs of the people during their quarantine,” the group said.
“Congress will make a disastrous mistake if its solution to the corona virus threat 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,” they argued.
The group also raised alarm over “the absence of standards in many of the powers granted to President Duterte as well as the discretion given to him to extend the exercise his emergency power…”
Section 9 of the House Bill 6166 states that Duterte’s emergency powers “shall be in full force and effect only for two months or longer if the calamity will persist, as may be determined by the President.”
MANLABAN maintained that the exercise of such extraordinary powers should have a definite termination date and can only be extended upon an express congressional resolution extending the same.
The human rights lawyers added they are not convinced by the bill’s declaration that the President’s exercise of emergency powers shall not be construed as a restriction to the bill of rights and the Constitution, citing the President’s “public disdain for human rights and the Constitution, which he once called a scrap of toilet paper.”
Signatories to the statement include former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri J. Colmenares, Glenda Litong, Roel Pulido, Evalyn Ursua, Imelda Manalysay and Katherine Panguban.