As different areas of the country, including Metro Manila, shifted to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) last June 1, government priorities came into public question again when the Anti-Terrorism Bill was urgently passed by Congress amid the continuing influx of reported COVID-19 cases.
The LaSallian recaps the developments that took place in the past week, including the continued commuter woes amid work resumptions; the swift approval of the anti-terrorism bill in Congress; and the ongoing hearings for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.
Almost one week into the transition to the GCQ, DOH reported on Saturday, June 6, that the total number of recorded COVID-19 cases had surged to 21,340 nationwide. Then Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergaire said last Tuesday, June 2, that the “fresh” and “late” classification system for reporting of new cases would continue until validation backlogs are cleared.
The department also became the target of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ire in his televised speech last Friday, June 5, as he revealed that the allotted P1-million death benefits had not yet been distributed to certain families of health workers who had contracted COVID-19. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III blamed subordinates for the fiasco. “Nakakahiya talaga, sir, eh namatayan na nga tapos nagpawardi-wardi ‘yung mga tao ko na parang walang sense of urgency, sir,” he said.
(It is embarrassing, sir, because the families are grieving but my staff are idling without any sense of urgency.)
Duque, however, tweeted later that day to acknowledge his “responsibility” as Health Secretary.
On the same day, Duterte appointed Dr. Leopoldo Vega, chief of the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, as DOH Undersecretary.
Limited, restricted capacity
As industries started to reopen after the easing of lockdown measures last Monday, June 1, major thoroughfares were overwhelmed by the sudden surge of workers trying to return to their jobs with public transport systems still largely restricted.
Jeepney drivers and operators, meanwhile, took to the streets, calling for a resumption of jeepney operations. The Department of Transportation’s ban against “traditional” jeepneys, they protested, was “discriminatory”, with “modern” jeepneys being permitted instead.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, on Tuesday, June 2, countered the drivers’ arguments, explaining that jeepneys are the least prioritized mode of public transport because of the difficulty of imposing physical distancing and issues on their roadworthiness. If proven otherwise, Tugade said, traditional jeepneys can be allowed back on the road.
The lack of mobility options forced many commuters to take up bicycles instead. Although bicycles are allowed, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia bluntly stated that bikers are barred from travelling on major roads, especially EDSA, until their agency has set up proper and protected bike lanes.
MMDA Spokesperson Celine Pialogo, meanwhile, emphasized in a statement last Wednesday, June 3, that the use of pop-up or improvised bike lanes are subject to the approval of the MMDA and the local government. Previously, the transport agency attempted to sue the cycling group Bikers United Marshalls for placing makeshift bike lane barriers along Commonwealth Ave.
“The ends do not justify the means. Their intentions might be good, but the law is the law,” she asserted.
‘Urgent, draconian’ bill passed
Through a majority vote of 173-31, with 29 abstentions, the House of Representatives passed the controversial House Bill No. 6875, better known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, in its third and final reading last Wednesday, June 3—needing only the President’s signature to become a law.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the only two senators who voted against the Senate’s version of the bill last February, also questioned the urgent passage of the bill in the lower house, labelling it a “misplaced priority” amid the pandemic. Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, disparaged the bill as “draconian”.
With concerns about red-tagging incidents, Vice President Leni Robredo also challenged the purpose of the bill after the President certified it as “urgent”.
“Maraming probisyon ang nakatutok sa pagpapalawak ng kung sino ang puwedeng bansagang terorista, at sa pagbabawas ng mga checks and balances laban sa mga mga wrongful arrest,” she declared in a statement.
(Many provisions are focused on expanding the definition of who can be labelled a ‘terrorist’ and cutting down checks and balances against wrongful arrests.)
Robredo’s views were shared by Free Legal Assistance Group chairman Atty. Chel Diokno, who said that the bill may allow the administration to “go after the persons they perceive to be critics [of the government]”.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano fired back at the opposition, suggesting that they have failed to understand the bill. “Basahin niyo muna ‘yung batas. Basahin natin before we criticize,” he said.
(Read the law first. Let us read it before we criticize.)
A question of citizenship
After shelving discussions on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal last Monday, June 1, the House of Representatives resumed its hearings on Wednesday, June 3. Lawmakers invited the network’s chairman emeritus, Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, to probe the authenticity of the latter’s citizenship. Under Article XVI, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, ownership and management of mass media companies shall be limited to Filipino citizens.
Atty. Mario Bautista, Lopez’s lawyer, stressed that Lopez is a natural-born Filipino because his parents were both full Filipinos, meeting citizenship requirements defined in the 1935 Constitution, which was in effect when he was born in 1952. However, as he was born in the United States, Lopez also held American citizenship via jus soli.
“Without any overt act or choice, Mr. Lopez was automatically a Filipino citizen and an American citizen,” Bautista noted. He added that the 1987 Constitution’s provision on the ownership of mass media companies did not bar dual citizens.
Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor challenged Bautista’s arguments, citing Article IV, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution, which states that the “dual allegiance of citizens” is harmful to national interests. If the law required local government officials with dual citizenship to renounce their foreign citizenship, he further asserted, “What more for a mass media company na ang pag-iisip ng bawat Pilipino ang pwede mong kontrolin, na ang kultura ng ating bansa ay mayroon kang kinalaman, na ang impormasyong pinapalabas ay pwede mong pakialaman?”
(What more for a mass media company that can control the minds of each Filipino, is integral to the nation’s culture, and can manipulate information presented?)
Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta added that the issue was not Lopez’s citizenship; rather, it was “only in the fact that ABS-CBN should not be managed by an American.”
“The Constitution provides that ownership of companies here is only limited to Filipinos,” he said. “It could not have been a problem if Mr. Lopez is only a Filipino, but he is also an American. We will have a lot of problems processing that issue.”
Lopez countered, saying that if “technicalities and [his] allegiance” are to be questioned, his commitment to the Filipino people must also be considered. “I stand by my record over the last 35 years. I have been committed to the people of this country,” he declared.
Asked by Defensor if he considered renouncing his American citizenship, Lopez replied, “If it came down to [a] conflict of interest, I will give up my US citizenship in a minute.”
After approving Resolution No. 43 last June 3, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases updated the following recommendations for areas under GCQ and modified GCQ.
Among these changes, the resolution stated that persons below 21 years old, above 60 years old, and those with health risks are “required to remain in their residences at all times” unless they are going out for essential services.
Barbershops and hair salons have also been allowed to reopen in areas under GCQ starting Sunday, June 7, operating only at 30 percent capacity while following health protocols, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez announced last May 31. Those under modified GCQ areas, however, can ramp up operations to 50 percent capacity.