3 things that stuck out on the sidelines of Congress’ session on special powers for Duterte

March 25, 2020 - 12:16 AM
Special session of Congress for COVID-19
The House of Representatives holds a special session to hear and pass a Malacañang-backed draft measure seeking emergency powers for President Duterte on Monday, March 23, 2020. (The STAR/Felicer Santos)

Events that occurred because of and during the deliberations of the proposed measure to grant President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic made buzz on Monday.

At a special session on Monday, the 18th Congress deliberated on three bills—the Bayanihan Act of 2020 from Malacañang, the House Bill 6616 from the House of Representative and the Senate Bill 1413 from the Senate.

Both houses approved and passed on the third and final reading their respective versions of the bill in sessions that lasted until past midnight of Tuesday.

‘We went to work for you’

Before the House of Representatives started its special session, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, his fellow solons and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, raised a poster made of Manila paper with cut-out of words bearing:

“Together with doctors and frontliners, we went to work for you, so please stay home for us!”

They had a photo opportunity while holding the poster.

These did the gesture to supposedly show solidarity with health workers and other frontline responders. However, Filipinos did not welcome this and considered it a “political gimmick.”

“How dare you equate your privileged working conditions (with matching COVID-19 test!) to those in the frontlines—three dead due to the virus, hundreds in quarantine, more in danger of exposure. PPEs in scarcity, walking for hours… you are NOT like them,” one Twitter wrote.

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines shared its own version of what was supposed to be stated in the banner.

“What they really meant at Congress this morning!” the caption read.

What they really meant at Congress this morning #BannerGate #RealTalk#MassTestingNowPH #NoToVIPTesting #Covid19PH cc Scoutmagph

Posted by Concerned Artists of the Philippines on Monday, March 23, 2020


Several memes were also created to poke fun at the officials’ gesture.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros also made a subtle remark against those pictured without mentioning his name.

“’It’s not time to do politics,’ said a certain someone who did a photo-op and compared himself to the frontliners dahil lang pumasok siya today,” she said.

The slogan was taken from viral posts of health workers who are appealing for citizens to “stay at home” amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Lyndon Cosico, a doctor of San Juan de Dios Hospital, posted a photo of them holding papers with printed words:

“We stayed at work for you. Please stay home for us.”


This post made rounds online and was picked up by mainstream media.

Health workers from other parts of the globe are also taking a photo of themselves with the similar slogan.


Meanwhile, as the lower house was holding the session, local brand Ligo Sardines Philippines, a popular manufacturer of canned goods, posted an advertisement which several Filipinos took as a “shade” against Duterte’s bid for additional powers.

The social media advertisement showed the easy open accompanied by the line: “No special powers needed.”

Its caption also read: “Our products are made with easy-open lids for your convenience!”

As of writing, the digital advertisement made rounds more than 42,000 times on Facebook and 34,000 more on Twitter.

FUN FACT: Our products are made with easy open lids for your convenience!

Posted by Ligo Sardines (Philippines) on Sunday, March 22, 2020


Ligo Sardines is among the Philippine businesses that pitched in donations, test kits and other contributions to those severely affected by the pandemic, particularly health workers and other employees.

The manufacturer dedicated its entire advertising budget for 2020 to be donated to groups who are at the forefront of the COVID-19 relief and response efforts.

Aside from these photos, the explanatory note of Senate Bill 1413, was also picked apart online for the way it was phrased.

This bill was the first version introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Pia Cayetano at the Senate before the amended Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“The grammar and writing are fucking awful,” user @immanuellakant commented.


From bills to bill

Three bills were merged by the two chambers past midnight of Tuesday, with the House of Representatives adopting the Senate version of the bill by Sotto and Pia Cayetano.

When Malacañang first drafted the Bayanihan Act of 2020, its provisions included placing the country under a state of national emergency and granting special powers that would “temporarily” take over privately owned public utilities and other establishments.

Duterte will also be authorized to reprogram and reallocate any item in the 2020 national budget to any purpose he deemed necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The sweeping coverage of emergency powers immediately drew concerns and ire from the public, saying these are prone to abuse by the Philippine government.

Addressing the concerns, the versions of the two chambers—House Bill 6616 and Senate Bill 1418—removed the takeover provision, limited the authority to realign funds to “savings” within the executive branch and set a three-month expiry date for the provisional presidential powers.

The bills also sought the exemption from procurement laws in the purchase of goods, lease of real property, construction of facilities and hiring of critical services for the fight against COVID-19 and social amelioration measures in affected communities.

A matrix of the three proposed measures was shared via Goggle Documents by @xandicheeks.