CoA relaxes rules on donations


THE Commission on Audit (CoA) is temporarily relaxing rules on donations received by the government in support of its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response efforts.

Under CoA Circular 2020-009 dated April 21, donations in kind could be immediately repacked and distributed in all areas that are placed under quarantine measures.

“The acknowledgement of the donations in-kind and accounting of distribution and balances by the recipient agencies will suffice during this period,” CoA said.

The costing and recording of the donations could be done after the quarantine and only the remaining balance will be recorded in the books.

Government agencies are allowed to transfer the responsibility of distributing the goods to the local government units (LGUs), based on the validated list of affected families.

“During the quarantine, the goods need not be released by the agency directly to the intended beneficiaries, but it may be done through the LGUs, particularly if the concerned agencies lack the resources or facilities to do so,” CoA said.

The commission is also allowing the use of an “electronic tracking platform” to facilitate recording, monitoring, and utilization of donations, whether in cash or in kind, provided that the date of receipt, name of donor, nature of donation, and amount or volume are included.

Instead of a monthly report, agencies are now only required to submit a one-time report, separately for cash donations and in-kind donations, within 10 working days after the end of the quarantine to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Office of the Civil Defense and the respective CoA auditors.

The circular will be in effect for the duration of the state of calamity declared under Proclamation No. 929 last March 16, “unless sooner revoked or amended by the Commission.”

COA said these measures are aimed to “support the efforts of the government in providing the needs of the citizens and health workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is a need to relax rules on donations, the commission assured that the “basic controls to ensure that the donations are properly accounted for” will not be disregarded. — Genshen L. Espedido

28K Filipinos should be tested daily with reopening of economic activities

PRESIDENTIAL Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey A. Concepcion said 28,000 Filipinos should be tested daily for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to mitigate health risks as the country moves towards resumption of economic activities.

“Para mabuksan ang ekonomiya natin (To reopen our economy), we need to test as much as 28,000 Filipino people daily,” he said in a briefing Monday.

Project ARK (Antibody Rapid test Kits), a private sector initiative, will roll out soon to help address the limited testing capacity of government facilities.

It aims to test thousands of Filipinos before restrictions are lifted under the current enhanced community quarantine policy.

Mr. Concepcion said over 200 companies will take part in the program.

Project ARK will also help up to seven provincial hospitals expand their testing capabilities for COVID-19.

“Our whole objective is to focus on test, test, and test. It will give us more visibility in the Cabinet and the government will be able to open up more of the economy,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez

Filipino COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia rises to 119, death toll at 5

THE Philippine Embassy in Saudi Arabia on Monday said 119 Filipinos have contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), five of whom have died.

Meron na kaming na-receive na report na lima sa 119 ang pumanaw (We have received a report that five of the 119 have died),” Ambassador Adnan V. Alonto said in the Laging Handa virtual briefing Monday.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has reported 17,522 cases, 139 deaths and 2,357 recoveries.

Mr. Alonto said the embassy is also monitoring the situation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) under a “no work, no pay” policy.

The embassy, in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs, repatriated on Sunday 257 distressed OFWs from Saudi Arabia.

“They are the second batch of Filipinos sent home aboard a special flight following Saudi government order to employers to allow their foreign workers to go home during this time of pandemic,” the DFA said in a social media post, Sunday evening. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Lawyers’ groups ask SC to allow release of 22 political prisoners

TWO lawyers’ groups urged the Supreme Court (SC) to grant bail to 22 political prisoners vulnerable to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) based on humanitarian grounds.

The Public Interest Law Center and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, replying to the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) comment on the bail request of the political prisoners, said the measures applied by jail and prison authorities to address COVID-19 in penal institutions is “not commensurate to the gravity of the pandemic,” and are standard compliance only.

They cited efforts by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJPM) to set up a 150-bed center in Payatas in Quezon City and the Bureau of Corrections’ (BuCor) coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways for a site inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

The lawyers groups said while the BJMP submitted a list of 14 health practitioners, five of whom are physicians, under the institution, it was unclear if they are attending to the over 30,000 inmates in Metro Manila or the 120,843 nationwide.

They also noted that 41 out of 44 jails under the BJMP are congested while the average congestion rate at the seven facilities under the Bureau of Corrections is at 314%.

“Given these figures, it is impossible for the PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) to observe physical distancing, a crucial element in the COVID-19 response,” the lawyers said.

The groups also said that the 22 political prisoners are not covered by the Office of the Court Administrator Circular No. 91-2020, which is cited by the Office of the Solicitor General as an effort to decongest jails, as it does not include sick and elderly inmates.

“As earlier mentioned, the release of herein petitioners — as those of others similarly vulnerable on account of age and health — will actually benefit the jails, the government and the public at large in the move to combat and lower the risk of rapid spread of COVID-19,” they said, adding that their cases are either still undergoing trial or have not yet reached trial stage.

The OSG in its reply asked the court to dismiss the petition, saying the petitioners are not qualified for bail and health protection and safety measures are being implemented in penal colonies.

The OSG also said the petition violates the equal protection clause as they are “not a unique class that should be treated differently” and should be treated like all other prisoners regardless of age, health, and status.

BuCOR reported 48 inmates and one worker tested positive for COVID-19 while the first confirmed case in the NBP has already died.

Nine inmates and nine staff at the Quezon City Jail have also been infected with COVID-19 while 210 in Cebu City Jail also have the virus. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Majority of senators endorse teleconferencing for sessions

FIFTEEN of the 24 senators have endorsed plenary sessions and committee hearings through teleconference when Congress resumes on May 4 amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

Under Senate Resolution No. 372, the senators asked Senate Secretary Myra Marie D. Villarica to recommend the information and communications technology system that will be needed as well as provide security measures for the online meetings.

The resolution was signed by Senators Ralph G. Recto, Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, Franklin M. Drilon, Juan Edgardo M. Angara, Ma. Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, Pia S. Cayetano, Ronald M. dela Rosa, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, Manuel M. Lapid, Imee R. Marcos, Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, Ramon B. Revilla, Jr. Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva and Cynthia A. Villar.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto on Sunday said he is open to teleconferencing, but noted the legislators will have to physically convene at the Senate hall on May 4 to discuss the legislative calendar.

Mr. Sotto placed the Senate premises under restricted access starting March 12 after a resource person in a March 5 hearing tested positive for COVID-19. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

DoST to look into 2 medicinal plants as supplement for COVID-19 patients

THE Department of Science and Technology (DoST) will be studying two known medicinal plants — tawa-tawa (Euphorbia hirta) and lagundi (Vitex negundo) — as possible herbal supplements for those infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, in a briefing Monday, said the DoST will do research and tests if the plants used as traditional medicine will also be “effective” on COVID-19 patients.

Last week, the DoST said it will conduct studies on the effects of virgin coconut oil as a food supplement that can help fight the virus. Clinical studies will be conducted soon. — Gillian M. Cortez