Breaking The Habit

Duterte emergency powers necessary for COVID-19 threat

The Senate and the House of Representatives have signed off on granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

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A lot may be shocked by the development, especially with the rumors going around. Some are saying that it’s not really needed. Others are afraid that it’s going to be Martial Law all over again. But they’re just that – rumors.

Looking at the approved provisions, there’s nothing that makes this sound like Martial Law. There’s no indication for opportunities for abuse of power. Certainly no suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus. 

Even the contentious provision of the takeover of privately-owned public utilities and businesses was removed. There are also oversight functions to address allegations of corruption and abuse.

The fact of the matter is, its passing was done in the middle of the night because its provisions include that extra push the government needs in order to fight this COVID-19 threat. It allows our government to be faster and more flexible given these unusual times we are facing as a nation.


There will be NO TAKEOVER of privately-owned public utilities and businesses.


The Writ of Habeas Corpus is NOT SUSPENDED.


  1. What emergency powers allow is for President Rodrigo Duterte to reshuffle savings within the executive department in the 2020 budget. This ensures that the funds get to the health sector and other relief efforts for the poor and marginalized.  
  2. It also gives the president the power to allocate cash, funds, investments, unused or unreleased subsidies in government corporations or any national government agency. This ensures that funds go to the national government agency that needs it the most.
  3. Additionally, it allows the president to direct the stoppage of programs, projects or activities under the executive department, including government corporations, and use the savings from these to fund the government’s response to COVID-19.
  4. The Department of Health (DOH) is prioritized and will receive much needed additional funding for its hospitals and initiatives. This includes prevention and control of other infectious diseases, emergency preparedness and response protocols, as well as a boost in its quick response fund.
  5. All unutilized or unreleased special purpose funds will be used to distribute P5,000 to P8,000 a month to some 18 million families, which will amount to roughly P200 billion in two months. This financial support will greatly benefit some Filipinos who lost their jobs during this pandemic.
  6. These provisions that grant President Duterte emergency powers will remain in effect for at least three months or until the state of calamity in the entire country is lifted. This is not something permanent and open-ended. It specifically addresses the COVID-19 threat.
  7. Does granting President Duterte emergency powers mean he’s allowed to take over businesses? No. However, he may direct the operation of privately-owned hospitals, medical facilities, passenger vessels and other establishments. They can then serve as housing or additional transportation for health workers, additional quarantine centers, and medical and aid centers or other temporary health facilities. 
  8. The management of these businesses and establishments will be retained. There will just be greater coordination with government agencies. All businesses will be compensated for any damage they may sustain as a result of the president taking charge of their operations.
  9. It also allows the president to buy goods, including personal protective equipment, thermometers, cleaning agents and medicine. This is as long as the DOH prioritizes the distribution of these to public and private health facilities tagged as COVID-19 referral hospitals, and private testing labs.
  10. Finally, it gives the President the power to require business to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services needed to combat COVID-19. This ensures that everyone acts swiftly and solely on the COVID threat.


Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Hopefully these emergency powers give the government the extra push to ensure the safety of the Filipino people. No more excuses – we should be serious, careful, and collaborative in addressing the COVID-19 threat.

It takes all of us to get through this. Stop spreading lies and unfounded panic. Be vigilant, and as much as we demand accountability from our government, demand accountability from each other as well.

READ: The Duterte Effect – What Does it Really Mean?

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