MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippine Congress passed a bill on Tuesday declaring a national emergency and empowering the President to launch a massive aid program for 18 million families and to open private hospitals and ships to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
President Rodrigo Duterte can redistribute the executive department’s budget according to government regulations, punishing people who violate quarantine instructions and spread “false information” about the outbreak, the lawmaker said. The national state of emergency will last three months, but can be extended by Congress.
The Senate and House of Representatives, which are dominated by Duterte’s ally, both held emergency meetings on Monday and worked past midnight to discuss the bill. Most legislators participated online for health reasons. Duterte is expected to sign the bill soon.
Duterte has already blocked the main northern island of Luzon, where more than 50 million people live, by restricting travel to and from the region, which also includes the capital Manila. Most residents were ordered to stay at home and work, and classes were suspended under containment for months.
Opposition groups fear that the additional powers of Duterte could lead to abuse. They urged the government to provide more protective clothing for health workers, a better “safety net” for the poor, and many more tests for the virus.
Filipino officials reported a total of 552 cases of the virus in the country with 35 deaths on Tuesday. Twenty patients have recovered.