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Health chief still has President’s trust, says spokesperson


“WE all serve at the pleasure of the President.” This was the statement of Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque in a briefing on Monday when asked about the reported looming exit of Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III. “Wala akong alam sa artikulo na iyan (I don’t know anything about that article)… We all serve at the pleasure of the President. Kung nawalan po ng tiwala ang Presidente (If the President loses trust), anytime, any Cabinet member can be removed,” Mr. Roque said. A report by the Philippine Star on Monday said the President is scouting for a replacement of Mr. Duque, citing several sources, including a Cabinet secretary. Mr. Duque has been under fire from the Senate and other sectors for his handling of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, with issues over overpriced equipment and his statement that the country is already on the second wave of infections. Mr. Duque previously served as Health secretary under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. — Gillian M. Cortez

PhilHealth defends COVID-19 testing rates

PHILIPPINE Health Insurance Corp.’s (PhilHealth) top official defended the rates set for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing, and said the packages paid to medical facilities are expected to become lower in the next few months. In a briefing on Monday, PhilHealth President Ricardo C. Morales said there is no overpricing of its packages, citing that different rates were determined based on prevailing prices at the time these were set. The Senate, in a hearing held last week, flagged PhilHealth’s alleged overpriced COVID-19 test packages. “At that time, mayroon din kaming (we had a package) cost (of) P2,700 for test kits that were donated. So, it was a range of costs of P8,000 (if) bought by the hospital to P2,700, donated. So, market forces ang nag-di-determine niyan,” he said. Mr. Morales also said that the package rates are expected to decrease as testing capacity increases with the accreditation of more facilities and availability of supplies. “Ang mga presyo ngayon at pagdating ng July or October makikita natin na bababa further (The prices now and when July or October comes, we will see it go down),” he said. PhilHealth, a government-owned corporation, has hired a third party agency to help determine case rates that will be adjusted. “It is not PhilHealth alone that is doing these calculations, as I’ve said we have an outside independent agency helping PhilHeath,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez

Online child exploitation cases triple during lockdown

CASES of online sexual exploitation of children almost tripled since the lockdown was imposed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Department of Justice (DoJ) reported on Monday. The DoJ said child online exploitation from March to May 2020 reached 279,166 from 76,561 in the same period last year. The report is based on the CyberTipline Report (CTRs) operated by non-profit firm National Center for Missing Exploited Children (NCMEC). “The aforesaid increase in NCMEC CTRs is attributable to the fact that during the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), strict home quarantine is observed in all households, and internet usage surges as people stay home,” the report read. The DoJ said it will evaluate what are considered as priority reports and these will be endorsed to law enforcement agencies. The DoJ-Office of Cybercrime (OCC) had a dialogue with internet service providers in March to discuss compliance on the installation of available technology to block or filter any form of child pornography. “They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate. And they realize, more than anyone, that without such technology, this trend of victimization of children who are the most vulnerable among us will remain unabated,” DoJ-OCC Undersecretary-in-Charge Markk L. Perete said through Viber. DoJ said while there is currently no law in the Philippines that penalizes online sexual exploitation of children and charges are filed based on Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, R.A. No. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, among others. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Lawmaker asks gov’t to allow motorcycle back riding among household members

A LAWMAKER has joined calls for government to allow back riding among family and household members, citing that motorcycles are “by and large the motor vehicle of the poor, low-income, and lower middle income segments of our society.” Ako-Bicol Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr., in a position paper addressed to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) handling coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response, said, “Consider also the motorcycle riders whose passengers are members of their own household are already in close physical contact even before they ride their motorcycle. Denying them the necessity of riding the motorcycle together because they do not observe the one meter physical distancing rule does not make logical sense and does not apply to them.” Several local government officials have asked IATF to lift the single-rider policy under the quarantine rules as motorcycles are the primary or only mode of transport for many areas. “Allowing others to return to work and travel to and from school while they, the poor and disadvantaged remain banned from using their own means of transportation is clear discrimination of the poor and disadvantaged,” Mr. Garbin said. — Genshen L. Espedido

Muslim commission to recommend reopening of mosques

THE National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) is planning to recommend the reopening of mosques as the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases adjusts guidelines under the less stringent general community quarantine (GCQ) policy. NCMF Secretary Saidamen B. Pangarungan said in a briefing Monday that he will make this recommendation in the next meeting of the task force. “We have a meeting tomorrow in Malacañang with IATF. We are likely to recommend the reopening of the mosques, especially in those areas with GCQ,” he said. Religious ceremonies and gatherings are allowed under the GCQ rules, but participants are limited to a maximum of five persons. For areas under modified GCQ, the maximum number is 10. The NCMF secretary noted that while it is part of Islamic rules to pray shoulder to shoulder during worship in mosques, Muslim leaders can issue adjusted guidelines in consideration of concerns over coronavirus transmission. “I think we can relax this rule and practice social distancing,” Mr. Pangarungan said. — Gillian M. Cortez