By: Ines Katrina M. Llanzon, Rev G. Sumagaysay and Diega V. Webster
(Editor’s note: This article talks about recently passed legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you would like to know more about the disease and its symptoms, you may contact the DOH COVID-19 emergency hotline 02-894-COVID or 02-894-26843.)
Republic Act (RA) No. 11469, otherwise known as Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on March 26, 2020, after almost a day of deliberations in Congress. In light of the global pandemic caused by Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19), the government had to take swift and urgent actions to address the situation. Upon the request of the President for Congress to give him emergency powers through law, RA 11469 was passed and is effective immediately.
Here are some important things to know about the Bayanihan law, and how it addresses the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippine setting:
1. What are the powers granted to the President under the Bayanihan law?
In general, the law allows the President to exercise the following powers:
- Ensure and regulate distribution and accessibility of essential goods and utilities, such as power, fuel, energy, and water;
- Provide incentives and financial assistance to health workers;
- Regulate, direct and compensate the private sector to cooperate with government when needed;
- Procure the necessary medical equipment and supplies;
- Engage or hire temporary health workers to complement the current health workforce;
- Re-align the 2020 budget;
- Provide financial assistance to low-income households; and
- Other relevant powers, including the power to direct financial institutions and executive departments to undertake cooperative measures to assist the general public.
2. What are the incentives for health workers?
Among the incentives and assistance provided to health workers, both public and private, are the following:
- A special risk allowance;
- Hazard pay of 5% to 25% of the monthly basic salary based on the salary grade of public health workers, as provided for in the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers (Republic Act No. 7305);
- PhilHealth coverage for all medical expenses if they are diagnosed to have COVID-19;
- P100,000 compensation if they contract severe COVID-19 infection while in the line of duty, beginning retroactively from February 1, 2020;
- P1,000,000 compensation if they die while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, also retroactive to February 1, 2020;
3. How will COVID-19 patients, persons under investigation (PUIs), and persons under monitoring (PUMs) benefit from this law?
The Bayanihan law assures that the cost of treatment for COVID-19 patients shall be covered by PhilHealth. Further, PUIs and PUMs are compulsorily isolated and/or treated as necessary.
4. How will the public, especially low-income families, benefit from this law?
The Bayanihan law ensures protection of low-income households through an emergency subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 per month for 2 months, based on prevailing regional minimum wage rates, subject to the conditional cash transfer (CCT) and rice subsidy.
The law also intends to implement an expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, where either the Secretary of Social Welfare and Development, or Labor and Employment shall transfer cash, cash vouchers, or goods, through the local government units (LGUs) or directly to households who have no incomes or savings. The amount should be adequate to restore capacity to purchase basic necessities during the quarantine.
For the duration of the quarantine, the public was allowed some breathing room by allowing the government agencies to move deadlines and timelines for the filing and submission of any document, the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges required by law. It also directs banks, lending companies, financial institutions, including GSIS, SSS and Pag-IBIG, to implement a 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans, without penalties, interest, or other charges.
The 30-day grace period also applies to residential rent payments falling due within the period of the enhanced community quarantine.
5. How will the private sector and business-owners be affected by the passage of this law?
All businesses will definitely be affected by the long enhanced community quarantine. The Bayanihan law authorizes alternative working arrangements between the executive branch and the private sector to allow the fast and efficient action.
For instance, the government may direct the operation of private hospitals and medical and health facilities to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities.
It will also regulate and limit the operation of the transportation sector, and may direct public transport to ferry health, emergency, and frontline personnel, and require businesses to accept contracts for materials and services.
Aside from this, the law ensures the availability of credit to the productive sectors of the economy, and shall liberalize the grant of incentives for the manufacture or importation of critical and need equipment or supplies.
6. How will the government budget be affected by this law?
One of the major provisions of the law is the power given to the President to re-align the 2020 budget, which is essentially the amendment of the General Appropriations Act (GAA). Under the law, the President may discontinue programs and projects where a budget has already been allocated and use the funds therefor to address the COVID-19 pandemic. It also allows the President to use government savings, unutilized special purpose funds, unreleased subsidies, cash, investments, and other government funds for the public health emergency.
The law gives the President the power to reprogram, reallocate, and realign the budget, and redistribute the funds to whatever he deems proper to address the pandemic.
The law has also lifted the cap on the Quick Response Fund (QRF). Under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act (Republic Act No. 10121), the QRF has a limit of 30% of the disaster management fund allocated to disaster risk reduction and management, whether national or local. The limit now being lifted, the national and local governments may now use the budget as they deem fit and proper to implement the law.
The laws on emergency procurement applies for equipment and medical supplies required, as well as lease of properties for housing of health workers, quarantine centers, and medical relief and aid distribution locations.
7. What are the tax implications of the Bayanihan law?
The importation of critical or needed equipment or supplies to combat COVID-19 shall be exempt from import duties, taxes, and other fees.
8. How can we be assured that the President will not abuse the powers granted to him by the Bayanihan law?
As a checks-and-balance measure, the President shall submit a weekly report to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee of all acts performed pursuant to the Bayanihan law during the immediately preceding week. This Committee shall determine whether such acts, orders, rules and regulations are within the restrictions provided herein.
The President must also follow World Health Guidelines (WHO) in implementing measures to prevent or suppress further transmission of COVID-19.
9. What are the punishable acts under the Bayanihan law, and the penalties therefor?
The Bayanihan law provides several acts punishable with imprisonment of 2 months or a fine of P10,000.00 to P1,000,000.00 or both, at the discretion of the court:
- Disobedience by LGU officials of national government policies or directives imposing quarantine;
- Unjust refusal to operate of owners and possessors of privately-owned hospitals and facilities;
- Hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels, monopolies, or other combinations in restraint of trade, or other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution, and movement of essential commodities;
- Refusal to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services necessary to address the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Refusal to provide the 30-day grace period;
- Spreading or perpetrating false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms;
- Failure to comply with reasonable limitations on the operation of certain transportation sectors; and
- Impeding access to roads, streets, and bridges, putting up prohibited encroachments or obstacles, and maintenance of illegal constructions in public places that have been ordered to be removed.