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Duterte takes a jab at pharmaceutical firms for ‘reservation fee’ on COVID-19 vaccine

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte took a jab at pharmaceutical companies from “western countries” for requiring a “reservation fee” on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines that are still being developed.

“That’s one thing wrong about the Western countries — it’s all profit, profit, profit,” he said in a televised address late Monday night.

“There is nothing with finality, and you want us to make a reservation by depositing money, you must be crazy,” he said.

Mr. Duterte also said he declined the offers because of the country’s stringent procurement laws.

“Because the Procurement Law of the Philippines, this country does not allow you to buy something which is non-existent or to be produced as yet,” he said.

Mr. Duterte reiterated earlier pronouncements of his preference for COVID-19 vaccines from China and Russia, and said he will prioritize these when purchasing especially if they are the same quality as those produced in other countries.

In a briefing on Tuesday, Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said the statement of the President will not affect ongoing talks between the Philippine government and vaccine developers.

“Wala naman pong epekto iyan (That has no effect), we continue to negotiate with everyone. In fact, the President wants to ensure na magkakaroon tayo ng vaccine kahit sino pang unang maka-develop –niyan (that we will have the vaccine regardless of who will develop it first),” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez 

High court junks request for Leonen’s SALN

THE SUPREME Court junked the request of the Office of the Solicitor General and lawyer Lorenzo G. Gadon for the release of the statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) of Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen.

The SALN was sought for the preparation of a quo warranto petition, a legal action that questions the eligibility of a person to hold a certain public position.

SC Public Information Chief Brian Keith F. Hosaka said the justices unanimously resolvedw to deny the request, but did not cite the reasons.

“Justice Leonen took no part in the resolution,” Mr. Hosaka told reporters via Viber.

A copy of the resolution has yet to be released.

Mr. Gadon last week asked the court for a certified copy of Mr. Leonen’s SALNs following a newspaper columnist’s allegation that the justice did not submit his SALN for 15 years when he was a faculty member at the University of the Philippines (UP).

The court in 2018 ousted former chief justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno through quo warranto for non-filing of SALNs when she was a professor at the UP College of Law. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Senators tell legislative liason office to improve coordination system

SENATORS ON Tuesday flagged the inability of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) to establish coordination between the executive department and Congress that led to the veto of certain priority bills.

“It’s such a waste of effort and time, if the debate and the piece of legislation, which we have worked on, is vetoed,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said on Tuesday.

“A better coordination, a more active PLLO can save us the time and effort by pointing out which part of the law we’re working on is contrary to the policy of the President and makes the proposal subject to veto,” he added.

The remark comes as the Senate tackles the proposed Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund in the plenary, which was among those vetoed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in the last Congress.

The coco levy fund bill was recalled by the bicameral conference committee to amend provisions on the creation of the trust fund and the broad powers granted to the Philippine Coconut Authority. The bill, however, was ultimately vetoed.

“We are hoping that this will not happen again. We all know the third version of the bill is again being debated in the Senate. I would expect within the next 30 days this bill will go to the president,” Mr. Drilon said.

PLLO Secretary Adelino B. Sitoy, on the other hand, said the coordination between agencies was “smooth flowing,” noting he had informed Senator Cynthia A. Villar, sponsor of the bill, of the reservations of cabinet members.

The finance sub-committee, led by Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, was tackling the proposed P110.092 million PLLO budget for 2021, which increased by 15% from last year.

The panel moved to endorse the budget for plenary deliberation, subject to a written report on PLLO’s plans to improve its liaison system.

Senator Aquilino L. Pimentel III advised the agency to show its “face” more to the senate in light of the issues raised during the hearing.

In the same hearing, the panel found that the agency does not participate in the crafting of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of laws, resulting in specifications that counter the provisions of the law.

Senators have also raised concern in cases when laws are not implemented in the absence of an IRR.

“Unfortunately, when the IRRs are being ironed out, formulated, we are not involved in the process, but this time we will insist on being notified,” Mr. Sitoy said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan 

Solons want DoTr to allow more public vehicles to operate, open more routes

CONGRESSMEN ON Tuesday asked the government to open more routes and hire more service contractors to boost public transportation in the capital Metro Manila as more sectors reopen with the easing of quarantine measures.

During the House of Representatives appropriations committee’s deliberation on the Department of Transportation’s (DoTr) proposed 2021 budget, Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo said increasing the number of public utility vehicles (PUVs) allowed to operate will improve “economic mobility.”

She cited that there are at least 1.71 million stranded workers as of September 14, which amounts to P890 million in lost wages a day.

The lawmaker proposed an additional P1.575 billion for service contracting and fuel subsidies on top of the P5.58 billion allocation for PUVs under the Bayanihan 2 law, which expires in December this year.

Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, chair of the ways and means committee, said it is best for the government to provide transportation supply that is higher than demand to ensure physical distancing.

“Sufficient supply of public transportation will enable a good balance between promoting health and protecting livelihood. Increasing more modes of public transportation to operate, increasing the number of ridership per PUV and increasing the number of workers allowed to work at home combined makes sound health and economic measures during a pandemic,” he said in a statement on Tuesday, which was also sent to the Transportation department.

The government started this week to decrease the required distance between passengers in public transport from one meter to .75 meter, and could be further cut to .5 meter in two weeks then 0.3 meter by October 12.

The policy has been criticized by medical experts, citing health risks amid the coronavirus threat. Several lawmakers also opposed the move.

Mr. Salceda also proposed to mandate around 400,000 government employees in Metro Manila to work from home instead of physically going to the office to reduce the number of commuters.

Citing DoTr’s figures, Mr. Salceda said only 14% of people reliant on public transportation in the National Capital Region are serviced, given that only 34% of jeepneys and  85% of buses are allowed to operate. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Probe into ‘sad state’ of PHL’s internet service sought

A RESOLUTION calling for an inquiry on the “sad state” of internet speed and connectivity in the country has been filed in the House of Representatives.

House of Representatives Deputy Majority Leader Bernadette Herrera-Dy’s Resolution No. 1193 orders the appropriations committee to investigate why the internet services in the country are relatively slow and expensive, citing the need to improve digital infrastructure, which has become crucial amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

“As the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic struck, fast, efficient and stable internet access is not only needed for communication and access to information, it also plays an important role in managing business operations, exploring novel sources of personal income, and continuity of education,” Ms. Herrera-Dy said in a statement on Tuesday.

Various studies have shown the Philippines lagging in terms of internet speed while having one of the highest service rates in Asia. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Almost 1M register for online technical courses during lockdown period

NEARLY A million Filipinos registered in online courses offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) from the start of the lockdown in mid-March to September 13.

In a briefing on Tuesday, TESDA Director General  Isidro S. Lapeña said this number indicates a “spike” in applicants for their online programs.

“During the quarantine period, from March 16 to September 13, total registrants with the program reached 908,396; some 71,251 of these are OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) or their dependents. These were 965,929 total enrolments during the period. 452,992 learners have already completed their courses,” he said.

“We have also added relevant and timely courses for added usefulness of the TESDA online program to the public. These are practicing COVID-19 preventive measures in the workplace, facilitating e-learning sessions, performing proper waste management in the workplace,” he said.

Programs can be accessed for free through M. Cortez