Tell it to SunStar: A bill for Covid-19

PUBLIC health emergencies do not abrogate our laws. A government response, which could stand legal scrutiny, could be as follows: Draft a bill specifically for this coronavirus emergency. Some of the points that should be addressed in the bill are the following:

a) What body should be responsible for the coordinated response to the emergency (the Inter-Agency Task Force could be just that); b. Empowering the President to restrict the right to travel under the second sentence of Section 6, Article 3 of the Constitution, by imposing lockdowns/community quarantines, including the standards to follow (proper delegation), taking into consideration Supreme Court pronouncements on the said right, esp. the Genuino case; c) Possibly empowering local chief executives as well to enforce the same in consultation with the local Sanggunian and with the approval of the national response body; d) Providing penalties for those violating lockdown regulations--although I would suggest that there be a proviso that the same shall not be considered a criminal offense and shall not be entered into the PNP and NBI’s databases; e) Releasing funds for the UP research team which created the test kits; f) Releasing funds for wage workers impacted by the lockdown and providing guidelines for the identification of beneficiaries (SSS sickness benefits?); g) Extending the deadline for the filing of income tax to at least 30 days from April 15, perhaps including a proviso that the President, in consultation with the Secretary of Finance and the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue, may extend yet again the deadline through the promulgation of a proclamation; i) Perhaps allowing businesses which agree to shorten business hours a tax break; j) Perhaps a bank holiday? (all debts due automatically reset to a future time)

Since some sectors would be expected to criticize some portions of this bill, it should include a sunset clause: A certain date or some standard, whichever comes first. The intent should be to craft a law to address the coronavirus emergency, not a law to address all kinds of public emergency--that should be for much discussion later.

I know that this is going to be some detailed piece of legislation. It seems to me that it is constitutionally permissible to allow lawyers from Malacañang and from both chambers of Congress to sit down and draft the bill together so that the same version would be presented to each chamber. Since time is of the essence, a non-extendible deadline should be imposed upon them. Two or three days should be enough.

Once the draft of the bill is finalized, it should be certified as urgent, to comply with Section 26(2), Article 6 of the Constitution. Since the President has control of Congress, this should be as easy as coughing. On the same day the bill is to be passed by both chambers, a contract for printing the same by a newspaper of general circulation should already be ready so that it could be carried by the newspaper the next day, to comply with Tuvera. (I admit I am not very familiar with government procurement laws, but there should be some provision there allowing something like this.) (Vincent Isles)


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