Liquor production allowed, but consumption still subject to local gov’t rules

THE liquor industry has been given the greenlight to resume operations under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and the general community quarantine (GCQ) classifications, but the national alcohol ban remains in place with discretion given to local government units (LGUs).

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, in a briefing on Thursday, said the lifting of the alcohol ban was not discussed during the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) during its last meeting, which means it’s status quo

“There is no discussion in the IATF regarding the liquor ban, what was discussed was that liquor companies and also tobacco companies can only operate under the Modified ECQ because we will need the funds,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

Among the few LGUs that have lifted the prohibition on alcohol sales are the provinces of Cebu and Cagayan, although alcohol consumption is still restricted within one’s residence.

In Metro Manila, Pasay City has passed an ordinance that will eases the ban effective May 14, allowing sales during the day while drinking is also limited to “inside the house.”

The Pasay ordinance is intended to “help retailers and other small businesses operating within the city to augment their sales amid the pandemic,” and not to “deprive constituents with the choice to buy and consume alcoholic drinks to help them deal with their anxieties.” — Gillian M. Cortez

College physical classes can start September

PHYSICAL classroom sessions in colleges and universities can start only by September, but schools may open August with online or other distance learning arrangements.

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque announced Thursday that this policy has been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases as recommended by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Mga higher education institutes na gumagamit ng significant na face-to-face/in-person mode ay makapagbubukas lamang po nang hindi mas maaga ng Setyembre 2020 sa mga lugar na nasa ilalim ng GCQ (Higher education institutions that use significant face-to-face/in-person mode will be allowed to open not earlier than September 2020 for places under general community quarantine),” he said.

For primary and secondary education, the Department of Education (DepEd) may get more flexibility in setting the opening of the academic year in times of emergencies after a Senate committee expressed support to the proposal.

Education Undersecretary Tonisito M.C. Umali presented on Thursday the proposal to expand the window period in which the DepEd could decide when to start the school year before the Senate committee on basic education, arts and culture.

Under existing law, the school year should start within the period June to August.

Ang hinihiling lang namin palawakin ‘yung (All we are asking is to expand the) window period within which we could declare the opening of classes,” he told the panel.

The Senate committee was tackling bills allowing the DepEd to open the school year in September or at any later date, as may be decided by concerned government agencies.

“If there’s a national emergency or emergency due to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) will be continuous, then we will give the power to the President after consultation with secretary of Education,” Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in a briefing Thursday.

On the other hand, private sector representative Joseph Estrada, managing director of the Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations of the Philippines, said the June-August opening should be maintained to keep school calendars synchronized.

Mr. Estrada said the current system already allows Secretary Leonor M. Briones to make changes administratively.

“The law should provide flexibility and stability, for synchronization of the school calendar for the mobility of students moving to and from the public school system and sychronization of school calendar for those moving from basic education to higher education kaya ‘yung (that is why the) June to August, sa ngayon (for now) is okay,” he told the panel.

Mr. Estrada also sought subsidy from the government, citing a decline of up to 50% in private school enrollees for the next school year.

He also noted that private schools are not covered by any subsidy program implemented by the government during the crisis.

In another development, DepEd is considering expanding its provident fund to cover medical benefits for public school teachers and non-teaching personnel amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

DepEd Undersecretary Annalyn A. Sevilla, speaking during the virtual hearing of the House of Representatives’ education-related committees on Thursday, said they are looking at collecting contributions as well as seeking government input to increase the fund.

“The provident fund is very limited under the Administrative Order 292. Kung pwede sana may (We are hoping to have) contribution from the employees because we are now nearing one million, so kung magkakaroon po ng contributions ‘yan, lalaki (so if we have contributions, it will increase) and the government share as well,” Ms. Sevilla said.

The provident fund is currently sourced only from the service fee collected from loans that are deductible from salaries, she explained.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Rosanna V. Vergara recommended that support for private school teachers should also be considered, noting that most of them are employed on a “no work, no pay” basis.

The hearing discussed House Bill 5092, authored by Camarines Sur Rep. Gabriel H. Bordado, Jr., which seeks to establish an educational mutual fund for teachers.

The panel created a technical working group tasked to come up with a substitute bill to address the recommendations of members and resource persons during the hearing. — Gillian M. Cortez, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Genshen L. Espedido

Bill seeks automatic installment payment scheme for utilities during calamities

A BILL seeking to institutionalize an installment payment scheme for basic utility bills during calamities has been filed in the House of Representatives.

Cavite Rep. Abraham N. Tolentino filed House Bill (HB) 6710 on May 11, which if passed will be known as the Three Gives Act, referring to an arrangement of three equal monthly installments.

“The current COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic has brought and will bring untold stories of financial hardships to millions of Filipinos. As such, this representation is respectfully proposing for the adoption of a law that will suspend the payment of certain obligations during times of crises. This law will not only be applicable during this 2020 COVID-19 pandemic but will likewise be applied during times of calamities or disasters,” Mr. Tolentino said in his explanatory note.

The proposal applies to all residential electric, water, and telecommunication bills within the duration of a state of calamity.

Public utility franchises and other service providers who will violate any provision of the bill will be fined a maximum penalty of P1 million for each violation.

Asked if the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) supports the measure, ERC Spokesperson Florensida B. Digal told BusinessWorld via Viber message: “We will support any initiative that will be for the benefit of the consumers.”

HB 6710 has been submitted to the House Defeat COVID-19 committee. — Genshen L. Espedido

Courts in MECQ areas to stay closed


THE Supreme Court issued new guidelines on court operations, maintaining physical closure of all courts in Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cebu City, which are all under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until May 31.

Under Administrative Circular No. 39-2020, the court said filing of petitions appeals, complaints, motions, pleadings, and other submissions that fall under May 31 is extended for 30 days.

Civil weddings may be conducted as long as witnesses and guests are limited to five and health protocols are observed.

All courts authorized to conduct hearing on urgent matters through videoconferencing are now authorized to do so.

In-court hearings attended by the judge, skeleton staff, will be limited to urgent matters and other concerns to expedite proceedings in civil and criminal cases.

Night and Saturday courts remain suspended in areas under MECQ. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas