MANILA -- Philippine lawmakers granted President Rodrigo Duterte a raft of extraordinary powers on Monday to mitigate the economic fallout from the new coronavirus.
Duterte will be able to access 275 billion pesos ($5.36 billion) from various government agencies. He can also intervene in private business operations and circumvent procurement rules, among other measures, to fight COVID-19.
Over the weekend, the president asked recessed lawmakers to convene for a special session on Monday. Deliberations to fast-track the emergency measures extended into early Tuesday morning, with the House of Representative agreeing to adopt the Senate's version of the bill to skip the usual lengthy inter-parliamentary debates, local media reported.
Senator Pia Cayetano, principal sponsor of the bill, said the government has 275 billion pesos available from various state agencies to bankroll a subsidy program. She said 18 million families who are employed under "no work, no pay" arrangements will be given 5,000 to 8,000 pesos monthly over the next two months.
Duterte, who has been criticized for not moving fast enough to contain the spread of the virus, locked down the country's main island of Luzon last week, barring about 57 million people from leaving their homes and restricting transport and business operations. The island accounts for around 75% of the economy.
The president can also reallocate funds under the 4.1-trillion peso national budget for 2020 to combat COVID-19.
In addition, he can "direct the operation" of privately owned hospitals, health facilities, and "other similar establishments" to house workers and serve as quarantine areas, as well as commandeer transport companies to ferry health workers, according to the bill. Despite the sweeping powers, the bill also stated that current management will be maintained and companies will be compensated.
The bill also said that Duterte can take over enterprises that "unjustifiably refuse" or signify they can no longer run their businesses. An earlier version allowed the president to take over other businesses, including hotels and telecoms, an element that apparently alarmed the private sector.
Moreover, Duterte can skip procurement rules to speed up the acquisition of health care equipment amid the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country, which reported 82 new cases on Monday -- the biggest daily rise -- bringing the total to 462 with 33 deaths.
Business groups, which have called for a 281-billion peso stimulus package, have backed the bill but said a final measure must be "consistent with the constitution and not be overly broad and overreaching," citing takeover of private enterprise.
Monetary authorities have also stepped up efforts to counter the impact of the virus. In a rare move, the Philippine central bank said on Monday it would purchase 300 billion pesos worth off government securities to boost funding for countermeasures against COVID-19. Last week, the central bank cut its policy rate by 50 basis points to 3.25%.
"We have the funds necessary to address COVID-19. What we do not have much of is time," said Senator Cayetano.