Press Release
March 1, 2011

Miriam on emergency powers for PNOY

On the proposal of some congressmen to grant Pres. Aquino emergency powers

It is alarming to talk of granting emergency powers to the President Aquino at this time. It tends to alarm the general public. And if I am asked the general question if I am ready to vote in favor of granting President Aquino emergency powers at this time, my answer is a definitive no.

First, let us remember the definition of an emergency. An emergency is the existence of circumstances which intensifies in a very rapid period the danger to life and well-being. So there has to be an extraordinary level of danger. Is there an extraordinary danger to the Filipino people at this time? The answer: no. Of course it might happen in the future. We can never predict the future, but the answer at this time is no, there is no emergency.

There are three kinds of emergencies: economic emergencies, emergencies caused by natural disasters, and emergencies of national security. I imagine that these people who are advocating emergency powers or who are at least talking about them are referring to the possible economic emergency that might be brought about by the unrest of what is called the Egyptian contagion in North Africa and the Middle East, meaning to say the proliferation of people power and regime changes in countries such as Egypt and, at present, in Libya.

In our own country, under Philippine constitutional law, there is a difference between a declaration by the president of a state of emergency and the actual exercise by the president of emergency powers. A mere declaration by the president does not require any Congressional input or approval. So he can just do it by himself. That is a matter for President Aquino and his cabinet to determine by themselves. But the exercise of emergency powers is another thing. It's completely different. The exercise of emergency powers by the president must be done by means of a law passed by Congress only for a limited period and with such restrictions as Congress might deem fit to impose.

I will refer to Article 6, Section 23, Paragraph 2 of our Constitution: In times of war or other national emergency, Congress may, by law, authorize the president for a limited period and subject to such restrictions at it may impose, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy. So you see, first of all, that there must be a time of war or other national emergencies. Do we have a national emergency on the level of a war? No.

Second, there must be a declared national policy enunciated by Congress in a law. That would take some time. You cannot just railroad a law to the two houses of Congress particularly when it is referring to a national policy. Third, the grant of emergency powers must be limited for a certain period of time and it must only exercised pursuant to the restrictions that might be contained in the law passed by Congress. The great fear today is, because of the problems in the governance of Libya, there might be a shortage of oil in the Philippines. That has no basis. Eighty percent of Libyan oil goes to Europe. We do not buy or depend on our oil on Libya. We get our oil mainly from Saudi Arabia. So where is the emergency? The emergency might be from the fact that the remittances from the OFWs in Libya might be endangered or prejudiced, and, second, that part of some one million Filipinos working in North Africa and the Middle East might be coming home. But are these national emergencies in the sense that there is an intensifying danger to our health and survival as a nation? The answer is No. So there is no need for a national emergency. What is needed is to make sure that if we come to a crunch, then we are already prepared to meet the exigencies. For example, I think it is a more acute emergency to note that food prices are going up all over the world. There is a global increase in food prices and the Philippines is listed as one of the countries whose people are dependent on food for the greater part of their Philippine peso. I think the Filipinos have one of the highest expenditures on food, spending about forty percent of every peso we earn. In other countries they only spend ten or twenty percent. So the food crisis is much more of an impending emergency than the Libyan oil crisis. There is no Libyan oil crisis. To say, for example, we should grant President Aquino the power to take over a privately owned public utility or any business affected by the public interest is going to scare away our foreign investors and friends. That is alarmist talk. We must try and be sober and practice sobriety during these times.

Do we need to grant Pres. Aquino emergency powers if the "Egyptian contagion" escalates to neighboring countries?

That is a scenario likely to happen in the near future, but our only concern is will it touch Saudi Arabia because that is where we source our oil. Before Saudi Arabia is concerned with the Egyptian contagion, there is no cause for alarm. Of course there is nothing wrong with warning the people to be prepared, there are possible scenarios that might happen, we might need emergency powers for our president. There is nothing wrong with that. But to sound as if the emergency has already taken place misleads the public.

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