Enacting, implementing ‘Bayanihan to Heal’
Laudable how the 6-page Malacañang-drafted “Bayanihan Act of 2020” was scrutinized, modified, and fine-tuned by Congress to become the 14-page “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” and promptly signed by the President as Republic Act No. 11469, all within a record 24 hours.
Though allowed by the Constitution (Art. XII, Sec. 17), the Palace draft did not include the feared “take over… of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.” Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea stressed that this was unnecessary as the private sector was fully united with the government in the war on COVID-19.
To be especially commended is the Senate which worked continuously till late evening, making sure the bill was marginalized-focused, safeguards-laden, and free of constitutionally prohibited provisions.
As a super senior, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon (and his wife Mila) was on voluntary self-quarantine but he emailed a letter to his colleagues carefully explaining his amendments, justifying what needed to be deleted or added, and laying out the exact wordings of his proposals.
Having been in consultation with him during that time, I personally know, after comparing the enrolled bill with his letter, that almost all of his recommendations were adopted, particularly those that urged compliance with David v. Arroyo (May 3, 2006) specifying the four essentials of a valid national emergency law, and Araullo v. Aquino (July 1, 2014) stating how “unobligated allotments” could be declared as “savings” and thereafter legally “realigned” to be used solely and transparently during the emergency, and only for the purposes provided in the new law.
I think these safeguards quieted down libertarian anxieties that the law could be utilized by unscrupulous politicians to resurrect the hated pork barrel and the disbursement acceleration program or DAP.
Instead of granting open-ended authority to the President “to issue rules, regulations and directives” under the original draft, Sec. 4 of the new law enumerated the specific powers that the President could “adopt… to respond to the crisis…” The original draft, in my humble opinion, constituted an undue delegation of legislative power which is prohibited by the Constitution.
Some of these specific powers are: (1) “Following (WHO) guidelines and best practices, adopt and implement measures to prevent or suppress further transmission and spread of COVID-19 through effective education, detection, protection and treatment.”
(2) Provide a cash subsidy of P5,000-P8,000 a month for two months to 18 million low income households; pay “special risk allowance” in addition to “hazard pay” already allowed by existing law to all public health workers; and shoulder via PhilHealth “all medical expenses of public and private health workers” and all other COVID-19 patients.
(3) Pay P100,000 to public and private health workers who “may contract severe COVID-19 infection” plus P1 million to said public and private health workers “who may die while fighting…the pandemic,” retroactive to Feb. 1, 2020.
(4) Assist displaced regular and contractual workers in the public and private sectors by the (a) implementation of alternative work arrangements like work-from-home or WFH (discussed in this space last Sunday) and reduced work hours; and (b) grant of health emergency leave, early release of the 13th month pay, and increase in GSIS and SSS benefits.
Now, the huge challenge is how to identify speedily, without partisanship and without corruption, the 18 million households mentioned in item 2, and distribute to them the P5,000-P8,000 per month per household cash subsidy granted by RA 11469. A similar challenge is how to identify and assist the 500,000 displaced workers mentioned in item 4.
As of this writing, the identification of the 18 million households and distribution of the cash assistance to them has begun with the 4Ps beneficiaries. And Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has asked employers to submit their lists of intended beneficiaries.
To the complaints of cumbersome red tape, delay, discrimination, and favoritism, the President pleaded for patience. More patience is indeed needed, but even more needed is the speedy, fair, and no-nonsense implementation of the nobly-conceived, bipartisanly-enacted, pro-poor provisions of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Law.
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