The Philippine Congress on Tuesday approved a bill declaring a national emergency and authorizing the president to launch a massive aid program for 18 million families and tap private hospitals and ships in fighting the coronavirus outbreak as the Southeast Asian state’s case total continues to rise.
President Rodrigo Duterte can reapportion the executive department’s budget under the legislation, which will also punish people disobeying quarantine orders and spreading “false information” about the outbreak, legislators said. The state of national emergency will last for three months but can be extended by Congress depending on progress therein.
The Senate and the House of Representatives, which are dominated by Duterte’s allies, both held emergency sessions Monday and worked beyond midnight to deliberate the bill, with most lawmakers participating online as a health precaution. Duterte is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
Duterte has already locked down the main northern island of Luzon, home to more than 50 million people, by restricting travel to and from the region, which includes Manila, the capital. Most residents have been ordered to stay home and work and classes have been suspended under the monthlong containment, mirroring some of the measures also adopted by other countries in the world facing what the World Health Organization has designated as a global pandemic.
Opposition groups say they fear Duterte’s extra powers could lead to abuses, a charge which has continued to haunt the president since he took office back in 2016 and won a decisive midterm election victory last year in his single six-year term that ends in 2022. They urged the government to provide more protective suits for health workers, a better “safety net” for the poor and many more tests for the virus.
Philippine officials reported Tuesday a total of 552 cases of the virus in the country, with 35 deaths. Twenty patients have recovered.
By The Associated Press, with additional reporting by The Diplomat.