School opening likely to be moved to August


THE NEW school year will likely open in August instead of the usual June start, Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones said on Tuesday. In a briefing, Ms. Briones said consultations with teachers and other stakeholders indicate that it will be hard to push for the normal academic calendar for school year 2020-2021 given the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation. “Right now, ang lumabas sa ating mga consultations, karamihan nagsasabi, para may panahon tayo na maghanda sa pagbabago ng edukasyon, pagbabago ng pamamaraan ng pagtuturo at saka kailangang masigurado natin na malinis at safe iyong ating kabataan, karamihan sa nag-re-respond ay para sa August (what came from these consultations, many say that we need time to prepare, revise the way we teach, and ensure that our children are secure and safe, many are for an August opening),” Ms. Briones said. On the other hand, experts from the University of the Philippines recommend that classes be kept suspended until the end of the year to curb the transmission of COVID-19. Alfredo Mahar A. Lagmay, an academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, said in a Palace briefing on Tuesday that based on their study, extending the suspension of classes in all levels until December will help prevent a massive spread of the virus. He cited that students interact with vulnerable age groups such as the elderly. The government is currently assessing the policies that will be implemented after the enhanced community quarantine expires on April 30. — Gillian M. Cortez

Duterte administration vows ‘substantial grant’ for COVID-19 vaccine research

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will be providing a “substantial grant” to researchers at the University of the Philippines (UP) to help develop a vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In a briefing on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said Mr. Duterte will give a “substantial grant sa UP at sa (and to) UP-PGH (UP-Philippine General Hospital) para po maka-develop nga ng bakuna laban dito sa (to develop a vaccine to fight) COVID-19.” UP scientists have developed a COVID-19 test kit, which was approved by the Food and Drug administration earlier this month. Researchers from UP have also created a COVID-19 dashboard tracker, which monitors the spread of the virus by classifying data of cases. Mr. Roque also said that the President has offered a P10 million reward to anyone who will develop a vaccine for the virus.

Meanwhile, Iloilo Representative Janette L. Garin, a former Health secretary, has urged the Department of Health (DoH) to assign a “COVID lab czar” who will oversee and coordinate all laboratory testing centers in the country. “The laboratory testing centers, they are all acting individually… If we had a COVID lab czar who directly coordinates with each laboratories, ‘yung mga maliliit na kailangan…lahat po kaya (all the small details required… everything can be addressed),” Ms. Garin told DzBB radio on Tuesday. She also stressed that quarantine facilities should be established to house suspected COVID-19 cases and do away with the home quarantine practice. “Matagal ko na itong pinaglalaban na talagang meron dapat tayong quarantine centers hindi lang po sa Metro Manila (I have been pushing for this for a long while, that we should have quarantine centers)… because I don’t personally believe that home quarantine will work,” she said. — Gillian M. Cortez and Genshen L. Espedido

MAP calls for ‘demand-driven’ transport system during post-lockdown transition; lawmaker bats for construction resumption

THE Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) has proposed to the Department of Transportation (DoTr) the implementation of a “demand-driven” transport system in Metro Manila so that employees can “gradually” return to work, and avoid business closures and layoffs as the country battles the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. MAP said it submitted its proposal entitled “Transition Towards the Normalization of the Public Transport System in NCR (National Capital Region) with Initial Focus on Buses, LRT/MRT/PNR” to DoTr Secretary Arthur P. Tugade on Monday. Under the proposed system, “the number of transport vehicles, to be authorized, will be determined by the size of the requirements for transport service.” MAP noted that the country had a total workforce of 42.925 million as of July 2019, of which 5.4 million were employees in the NCR. The group said the government could allow public transport in the NCR “on a graduated and phase-by-phase basis for more or less 245,000 people (estimate for a skeletal force), with the number increasing gradually as the COVID-19 curve flattens.” MAP said the goal is to allow more businesses, workers and daily-wage earners to work while following and enforcing the COVID-19 protection protocols. Also, as part of the proposal, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) will identify the buses and rail systems — including the Manila Metro Rail Transit System, the Manila Light Rail Transit System and the Philippine National Railways — that will be authorized to ply specific routes based on a set of criteria that it will develop jointly with bus operators, LRT/MRT/PNR management, and Philippine National Police. Travels will also be limited to “absolutely necessary” trips, such as going to and from work, buying medicines and food, and other emergencies. MAP said that if DoTr and LTFRB find its proposal feasible, “they can begin by experimenting it on a limited basis (such as starting with EDSA) and expand it gradually to other routes.”

At the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte is proposing the inclusion of construction activities as an essential service exempted from containment measures that will remain in place beyond April 30, the supposed end of the enhanced community quarantine measures. “Rebooting ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects even during the lockdown will spearhead the recovery of our economy and thus mitigate the adverse effects of what the International Monetary Fund expects to be the worst global recession in almost a century since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” said the Camarines Sur representative in a statement on Tuesday. Mr. Villafuerte said that the administration’s Build, Build, Build program must be put back on track “as infrastructure investments offer the highest multiplier effects, including job generation, on the economy” and could stimulate high growth despite the COVID-19 crisis. He said regular construction work can resume on major infrastructure projects “for so long as social distancing measures and other health protocols are strictly imposed in job sites.” The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases earlier approved the request of the Department of Transportation to allow the resumption of utility relocation and other works on 13 rail projects. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Genshen L. Espedido

Over P240B pooled so far from gov’t sources for COVID-19 response

OVER P200 billion has been pooled so far by the Duterte administration from internal sources for response measures relating to the coronavirus disease 2019, based on the President’s 4th weekly report to Congress submitted Monday. A total of P246.28 billion worth of savings has been gathered from various sources as of April 16, according to the report. A majority of these savings have already been distributed by the Department of Budget and Management to other government agencies. “P148.933 billion has already been downloaded by the DBM to relevant national government agencies (NGAs) in connection with the government’s COVID-19 responses.” Additional allotments worth P5.690 billion and P7.789 cash allocations that were released are from programs under the 2020 budgets of the NGAs. Unlike the third report which detailed how the funds released for that week worth P132 billion were allocated, the fourth report did not indicate the specific government agencies that received what amount from the pooled savings. Under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, President Rodrigo R. Duterte has the power to realign the 2019 and 2020 national budgets towards COVID-19 measures.

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus B. Rodriguez urged Mr. Duterte to extend the service of contractual government workers to the end of the year. “With the current COVID-19 situation, the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and lockdowns happening all over the country, it is becoming clear that there is a very strong possibility that the contracts of these employees might not be renewed or extended,” Mr. Rodriguez said in a letter to the President obtained by BusinessWorld. He cited that there are about 700,000 government personnel on job-order or contract-of-service arrangements. He also pointed out that government agencies have funds in their budgets for contractual personnel. He informed the President that the Workers of Government Movement in Cagayan de Oro City sought his help in having their services retained. “As such, may I endorse their request for the contracts of these workers to be securely extended until Dec. 31, 2020. This will provide security to them in these uncertain times,” Mr. Rodriguez said. — Gillian M. Cortez and Genshen L. Espedido

More Filipinos return from NZ, Singapore, Malawi; LANDBANK to offer ‘study now, pay later’ program for OFWs

ALMOST 100 more Filipinos from New Zealand, Singapore and Malawi have been repatriated amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has sickened 2.4 million and killed over 170,000 people worldwide, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported on Tuesday. Sixty overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) arrived on Monday evening from Auckland, New Zealand, 14 from Singapore, and 19 from Malawi. This brings the total number of repatriates to nearly 18,000 out of the DFA’s 20,000 target beneficiaries.

The most recent repatriations were facilitated by the Philippine Embassies in New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa. “The OFWs from Malawi transited through Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Germany, and Qatar, before finally returning to the Philippines,” the DFA said in a statement. All the repatriates will undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine after being subjected to the Bureau of Quarantine’s medical checkup upon arrival. The DFA, as of April 20, is monitoring 584 patients abroad undergoing treatment. Another 263 have recovered, while 143 have died.

In another development, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) will offer a “study now, pay later” loan program for displaced OFWs. “If private schools provide a study now, pay later program, and get a promissory note from the student… LANDBANK can lend the private school against that promissory note, probably up to 70% to 75% of the value of the promissory note,” he said during the House Defeat COVID-19 committee virtual hearing on Tuesday. Mr. Dominguez also said the state-owned bank will launch a digital bank by the “middle of this year,” which will mainly serve OFWs. Meanwhile, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said in the same hearing that they plan to make borrowing for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) “as user-friendly” as possible. “We try to be creative, gusto namin mapupunta ‘yun sa (we want loans to go to) small and medium scale industries,” Mr. Diokno said. LANDBANK President and Chief Executive Officer Cecilia C. Borromeo recommended to the House panel that the bank, along with fellow state-run Development Bank of the Philippines, be the implementing agencies for the government’s lending programs. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Genshen L. Espedido

Trump offers more assistance to PHL’s COVID-19 response

UNITED States President Donald J. Trump has offered additional assistance to the Philippines in its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response, the US Embassy in the Philippines said on Tuesday. The embassy confirmed that Mr. Trump had spoken to President Rodrigo R. Duterte last Sunday. “President Trump expressed his solidarity and offered additional assistance to the Philippines as it continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Embassy said in a statement. The Philippines has so far received $4 million or over P203 million worth of assistance from the US government. The financial aid is intended to support the Philippine government in expanding its testing capacity, among other response measures. “The two leaders also discussed how the United States and the Philippines can continue building upon the strong and enduring economic, cultural, and security ties binding the two nations,” the embassy said. Mr. Trump also expressed his condolences over the death of 11 Philippine soldiers in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Sulu last Friday. — Charmaine A. Tadalan