Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

Congress will reap a whirlwind public backlash as it approved a carte blanche package of special powers to President Rodrigo Duterte in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of using the special session to ensure that realigned funds will be used in the fight against COVID-19, Congress chose to abdicate its role as fiscalizer by giving the ‘power of the purse’ to the president. Instead of demanding an itemized list of essential expenses such as the procurement of testing kits and the delivery of food relief, Congress waived that right and allowed the president to amass an unchecked greater authority over the national budget sans a detailed plan on how to stop the further spread of the virus.

The session became a self-serving spectacle that gave Duterte a bigger hoard to be dispensed to loyal legislators. It is hypocritical for Congress to feign concern over the struggling health sector when it connived with the president in slashing the funds of public hospitals in 2019. The same cabal of politicians who allowed the misprioritization of government expenditure in favor of debt-servicing and bloated military funding.

The president has enough powers to deal with the crisis but the government was slow and bungled its response which made it desperate to seek additional emergency powers. This is a clear attempt to avoid accountability over its criminally negligent actions and inactions. It was unprepared and incompetent in containing COVID-19 which Congress rewarded with a law giving more powers to the president.

The president wanted more leeway in addressing a public health crisis but this should be considered without compromising the ‘checks and balances’ in government. After all, this government is not known for upholding human rights and respecting due process based on how it implemented the bloody ‘war on drugs’, Martial Law in Mindanao, and the military’s counterinsurgency campaign.

After the imposition of a Luzon-wide lockdown, many residents rightfully complained of how their civil liberties were curtailed by law enforcers in the name of preserving public safety. We fear that a leadership with a militarist mindset and a government which has shown little empathy for the common tao will use the emergency powers to weaponize the COVID-19 campaign by centralizing political control and silencing the opposition.

For these reasons, we cast doubt that the ‘unli’ special powers of Duterte will be put to good use. To quote the government spokesperson in charge of explaining the parameters of the enhanced community quarantine, ‘when in doubt, no.’

We call on all Filipinos in quarantine to reject the emergency powers of Duterte and continue to assert our legitimate demands: Mass testing, food assistance, and the lifting of unnecessary lockdown restrictions. Let’s protest from our homes and communities to call for urgent relief, defend our rights, and protect our health. Let’s heal together by fighting as one!

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