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Nationwide round-up (10/27/20)

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Francisco T. Duque
HEALTH SECRETARY FRANCISCO H. DUQUE III — PHILSTAR

House panel approves recommendation to file charges vs Duque, other PhilHealth execs

A JOINT panel in the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a 65-page report recommending the filing of charges against Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III and other officials involved in the alleged anomalies in Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). Members of the House committees on public accounts, and good government and public accountability maintained in their report that Mr. Duque and other members of the PhilHealth Board should face administrative and criminal charges even as Bulacan Rep. Jose Alvarado-Sy filed an omnibus motion to exclude the state insurance firm’s board members from several charges. The joint panel recommended that the Office of the Ombudsman file criminal charges against the following: Mr. Duque, who sits as ex-officio chairperson of the board; former PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo C. Morales; Executive Vice President  Arnel F. De Jesus; Senior Vice Presidents Israel Francis Pargas, Renato Limsiaco, and Rodolfo del Rosario Jr.; and Senior Manager Rogelio Pocallan for violating Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. They are linked to the alleged illegal fund releases under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, a system of cash advances meant to assist medical providers during “fortuitous events” such as the coronavirus pandemic. The joint panel also gives the President authority to re-organize PhilHealth, and abolish some of its offices if necessary. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

DoT backs COVID-19 testing price cap to encourage more domestic tourists

THE TOURISM department is supporting the proposed price cap on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tests to reduce costs for potential travelers. Tourism sites that have reopened, such as Boracay and Baguio, require visitors to present a negative COVID-19 test result before being allowed entry. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, in a press release on Tuesday, said the imposition of price caps on both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid antigen tests would benefit the industry that is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. “The Department likewise finds it imperative to address the urgent need to impose a price cap on these accepted COVID-19 testing methods to promote domestic tourism, which in turn can generate employment and stimulate economic recovery,” she said. The Department of Health last month recommended that President Rodrigo R. Duterte issue an executive order on the price ceiling. A PCR test could go as high as P12,000 in private laboratories. Tourism Congress of the Philippines President Jose C. Clemente III has said that the industry’s recovery depends on health safety, as well as cost and ease of travel. — Jenina P. Ibañez

Gov’t stands pat on eased distancing rules

THE GOVERNMENT on Tuesday dismissed the recommendations of an independent research group that warns against relaxing distancing protocols in mass transport. In a briefing on Tuesday, Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said the government “disagrees” with the OCTA research group, adding that the eased measures were made by a team of medical experts and doctors. “I’m sorry, itong mga doktor pong ito ay respetado. Hindi ko po alam kung sino iyong doktor ng OCTA Group (these doctors  are respected. I don’t know who is the doctor of the OCTA Group),” he said. OCTA said on Monday that there will be a spike in coronavirus cases within the next two weeks following the decreased distancing requirements in public transportation. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) head said on Tuesday that preparations are underway for setting up cold chain storage facilities for vaccines. FDA Director General Rolando Enrique C. Domingo said the Health department already rents such facilities if there is a need during routine immunization programs, but it plans to have its own for the coronavirus vaccine distribution. Mr. Roque said the government has enough funds to purchase and build the needed facilities. — Gillian M. Cortez 

Duterte asks lawmakers to fast-track bill on OFW department

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte called on lawmakers to fast-track the passage of the bill that will create a new department for overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs), citing the urgent need to have an agency that will focus on their needs, especially amid displacements prompted by the global coronavirus pandemic. “I’d like to hurry up Congress in this. One of my proposals during the campaign period was the creation of Overseas Filipino (Workers department),” he said during a televised address on Tuesday. Mr. Duterte said the Department of Labor and Employment cannot solely handle the needs of OFWs given its responsibilities on in-country policies and programs. Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said on Tuesday the President might certify the measure as urgent. The President also called for the creation of special agency for maritime workers. The House of Representatives in March approved on final reading its version of the bill creating the department, while Senate versions are pending. — Gillian M. Cortez 

Voters want automated elections — La Salle study

FILIPINO VOTERS prefer an automated election system (AES) after finding the last four polls credible, transparent and accurate among others, a study found. “The latest available data on the 2019 mid-term elections to the data compared with the 2016, 2013, and 2010 elections shows improving Comelec (Commission on Elections) performance over time,” said Professors Ador R. Torneo and Topin S. Ruiz of the De La Salle University Department of Political Science. The study, titled 2019 Mid-term Elections in Review: An Assessment of the ‘Credibility’ of the 2019 Mid-term elections, was presented during the Stratbase ADR Institute virtual town hall discussion on Democracy Goes On: Elections & Electoral Continuity Post-COVID-19. “Automation of elections has improved the transparency of certain aspects of the electoral process. Having transparent elections means that the electorate has access to processes and information,” the authors said. Further, the study noted the increased public trust as well as the low number of electoral protests as among the indicators that showed improvement in the system. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Senators commend quick recall of envoy in abuse case, call for action

SENATORS on Tuesday commended the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) immediate recall of the Philippine ambassador to Brazil who was filmed on a security camera maltreating her Filipino household staff, and at the same time called for immediate action on the case. “I call on our Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct a thorough investigation on the matter and prosecute the official if found violating our labor laws and the Kasambahay (household helper) Law,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said in a statement on Tuesday. Senator Aquilino L. Pimentel III, chair of the foreign relations committee, said the DFA should provide assistance to the victim. “The recall of the diplomat involved back home to the Philippines is the correct move to make. Let us give her a chance to explain,” he told reporters over phone message. “In the meantime, we have to assist the person/staff at the receiving end of the physical violence,” Mr. Pimentel said. The footage was aired in the Brazilian news channel GloboNews last Sunday and later by international news organizations. DFA said the household staff left Brazil on Oct. 21 to return to the Philippines. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Crime rate drops by 46% during quarantine period

CRIME INCIDENTS dropped by 46% in the last seven months since lockdowns and quarantine measures were imposed in mid-March, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP). In a briefing on Tuesday, PNP Chief  Guillermo T. Eleazar reported a 46% drop in index crimes during the period March 16 to October 25. “The average used to be 176 crimes per day. During this quarantine, it was 96,” he said in mixed Filipino and English. He added that the eight “focus crimes” have significantly decreased due to interventions by the PNP and the Joint Task Force COVID Shield. These crimes are murder, homicide, physical injury, rape, robbery, theft and carnapping. Gillian M. Cortez

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