Legislation on P140B coronavirus response, recovery program advances at the Senate

THE proposed Bayanihan II law, which provides for a P140 billion standby fund for the coronavirus response and recovery program, was approved on second reading Wednesday at the Senate.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said the measure may also hurdle the chamber on final reading if it immediately receives an urgent certification from President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Ipapasa namin (We will pass it) and then we can approve it on second reading,” he said in a virtual briefing.

“And then we will wait for the word if the President or the Palace will certify it as an urgent measure. If so, then we will pass it on third reading within the day.”

In its last version, Senate Bill No. 1564, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, maintains Mr. Duterte’s power to realign items under the 2019 and 2020 national budget to fund coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) measures until September 30, 2020.

It also keeps the provision granting a P5,000-8,000 monthly subsidy to low-income families and to households with recently returned overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The P140 billion standby fund covers P10 billion for the procurement of testing and extraction kits, and P15 billion for a cash-for-work program and the continuation of the livelihood assistance for disadvantaged/displaced workers.

It will also provide a P17-billion assistance to displaced workers, P17 billion for capital infusion to government financial institutions, P21 billion cash subsidy and interest-free loans to farmers and fisherfolk.

Further, the transportation and tourism industries will receive P17 billion and P10 billion, respectively.

State-owned universities and colleges will get P3 billion assistance, and training institutions under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority will have P1 million.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sotto flagged the Department of Health for its failure to comply with the provision of the first Bayanihan law, particularly in providing compensation to families of healthworkers who died due to COVID-19.

“It is very disconcerting to know that after more than two months… no health worker and his or her family has received their supposed renumeration,” Mr. Sotto said in a letter to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

On this note, he compelled the department to pay the P100,000 compensation for each healthworker who contracted the disease and P1 million each to the family of those who died since February 1.

Mr. Sotto said the Health department should prioritize the distribution despite the absence of an implementing rules and regulation.

In another development, the Department of Science and Technology has allocated P5 million for its assistance program for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) looking to establish technology-based businesses.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato T. De La Peña said OFWs can apply for the iFWD PH project, which stands for innovation for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines.

“We are looking after the welfare of our OFWs and we packed a project intended for them and this is really for starting new enterprises that are technology-based,” he said.

Among the potential businesses are food processing, furniture making, engineering design, and information and communications technology.

Program advisers will help the OFW entrepreneurs come up with a business plan before the department releases the financing.

The project will initially cover Metro Manila. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez

Palace defends anti-terrorism bill as opposition intensifies

Herminio L. Roque, Jr.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. — PHILSTAR

PALACE Spokesperson Harry L. Roque on Wednesday defended the proposed revisions to the anti-terrorism law as opposition to its passage increased on various fronts, including online.

“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances,” Mr. Roque said in an ANC interview.

Critics of the bill, however, cite unconstitutional provisions in the proposal and that the expanded definition of terrorism may include political dissent.

The bill, already passed by the Senate in February, was certified as urgent by President Rodirgo R. Duterte last Monday.

It is pending third and final reading at the House of Representatives. — Gillian M. Cortez

Health authorities call for extra caution with onset of rainy season

HEALTH experts reminded the public to take even further caution with the coming rainy season when there is an even higher threat of other diseases aside from the coronavirus.

Rontgene Solante, infectious disease specialist and former president of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, noted that from January to May, there were still patients with dengue, leptospirosis, tetanus, and pneumonia at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

“Let’s not forget this other infectious disease aside from COVID (coronavirus disease 2019) because this can also be some of the infections that can multiply and increase if we will forget giving the vaccines, especially the children who are higher risk for acquiring this infection, diphteria, measles and of course polio,” he said in a virtual briefing on Wednesday.

He also noted that during the rainy season there is higher risk of getting infected with leptospirosis, typhoid, and dengue.

Lulu C. Bravo, a professor emeritus of University of the Philippines-Manila College of Medicine and executive director of Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, emphasized that “vaccination saves lives.”

“Everyone of us must actually think vaccination not just for COVID but for other vaccine preventable disease that could kill not just our babies and children but even adults, the elderly who are also at high risk of getting flu, tetanus, diphtheria for children of course, so many things, measles and dengue,” she said.

Ms. Bravo also called on the government to invest more in the country’s health system.

“Health is wealth you have to invest in health. Onvestment in health is very important just like education,” she said.

Mr. Solante also said contact tracers are important in the continued battle against COVID-19, especially now that quarantine restrictions have been eased.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier this week said the Department of Health should just use the P11.7 billion budget to hire contact tracers for the treatment of coronavirus patients. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

National gov’t vows Balik Probinsya beneficiaries to get health screening

THE NATIONAL government assured local officials that beneficiaries of the Balik Probinsya program will not be sent to their home provinces without undergoing testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“We will not deploy anyone without medical clearance and certificates,” National Housing Authority General Manager Marcelino Escalada said in a virtual briefing on Wednesday.

Local governments around the country, most with low COVID-19 cases and zero in some areas, currently have their hands full managing returning overseas workers and locally-stranded residents, some of whom have already tested positive for COVID-19 after arrival.

Several officials have expressed apprehension over the added people who will be arriving under the Balik Probinsya program considering limited health systems in the provinces.

The Balik Probinsya aims to decongest Metro Manila and other major urban areas by attracting local migrants and businesses to the countryside. — Gillian M. Cortez