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The House Committee of the Whole approved a bill giving President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Voting "ayes" and "nays," the Committee of the Whole approved House Bill 6616, which seeks to declare a national emergency amid the threat of COVID-19 and authorizes the President to exercise powers in dealing with the health situation "for a limited time and subject to restrictions."

The House constituted itself into a Committee of the Whole as a first step in deliberating on the measure, presided by Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.

According to the House rules, when the chamber constitutes into a Committee of the Whole, "it functions as one committee acting upon a bill or resolution, and conducting its proceedings like a regular committee with its membership composed of all the Members of the House."

The approval of the measure by the Committee on the Whole will allow the House to have a working draft of the bill to be deliberated in the plenary for second and third reading.

The measure stressed the urgent need to minimize transmission of COVID-19, mobilize assistance to affected individuals, and provide healthcare and treatment to patients.

"By reason thereof, and in order to optimize the efforts of the President to carry out the tasks needed to implement the aforementioned policy, it is imperative to grant him emergency powers subject to limitations," it read.

One of these powers include the authority to "direct the operation of privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, hotels, and other similar establishments to house health workers, serve as quarantine areas, quarantine centers, medical relief and aid distribution locations, or other temporary medical facilities."

It also allows the President to direct the operation of public transportation systems to carry health, emergency and frontline personnel, and other persons.

The measure also grants Duterte to "reprogram, reallocate, and realign any appropriation" in the 2020 national budget "for whatever purpose the President may deem necessary" to combat the spread of COVID-19, and cancel appropriated programs, projects, and activities to generate savings.

Following the approval by the Committee on the Whole, the House will approve the measure on second and third reading.

The Senate is also set to discuss its counterpart measure, Senate Bill No. 1413 or "We Heal as One Act," authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Pia Cayetano.

Sotto also assured the public that the bill they filed does not include "emergency powers" for the President.

"Walang emergency powers na sinasabi dito. Authority ang sinasabi natin to use the funds available and generally. ang pondong gagamitin, hindi manggagaling sa GAA ng 2020, manggagaling sa mga GOCCs. In other words, off-budget, kaya wala dapat kabahan," Sotto said in a radio interview.

As of Sunday, the DOH has tested at least 1,513 patients. Of which, 380 turned positive for COVID-19, including 25 fatalities, 662 tested negative, while the results for the 471 patients are still pending.

Earlier in the day, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they could be missing half of the actual total number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the country due to the limited testing capacity of laboratories.

Duque said there could be around 600 confirmed cases based on the current tally of deaths.

“So ang namimiss natin kalahati,” he said in an interview on Dobol B sa News TV.

“Habang dumadami ang ating testing capacity, malalaman natin ang tunay na trend ng transmission sa Pilipinas,” he added.

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