Business groups denounce impunity of officials violating quarantine protocols

BUSINESS groups denounced the prevailing culture of impunity with reports of public officials violating quarantine protocols but not immediately held liable by law enforcers.

In a statement on Sunday, different private sector organizations said they have been supporting the “whole-of-government, whole-of-society” response against the coronavirus pandemic, noting that its members as well as their employees and officers were compliant with measures to contain the spread of the disease.

“We are therefore greatly disappointed — even appalled and dismayed — about news reports of public officials violating with impunity the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) and DoH (Department of Health) protocols intended to protect public health,” they said in a joint statement, without naming any official.

They noted that from March 17, the start of the strict lockdown, until April 17, almost 30,000 civilians had been arrested — with 6,616 undergoing inquest while 23,016 cases were for filing.

The total increased to nearly 41,00 by May 1.

Financial necessity and unfamiliarity with the new rules led to detention of people for days, which increased their risk of exposure to the virus in overcrowded facilities, they said.

They cited the rule of the Supreme Court reducing bail and allowing recognizance for the release of the accused.

The signatories are the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Institute for Solidarity in Asia, Inc., Institute of Corporate Directors, Judicial Reform Initiative, Makati Business Club, and Management Association of the Philippines.

They added that those arrested “suffered detention, costs, humiliation, and inconveniences, and some endured unwarranted jail time when unopened courts or government offices, or even limited bank branches, could not process their bail in a timely manner.”

The groups said they trust that the government will strictly observe and enforce the rule of law “and serve as role models in discipline and moral ascendancy.”

“Upholding the law and ensuring faith in our justice system stand as the bedrock of our democracy, and will enable the economy to survive and recover from these most trying times. The sacrifice of our people deserves nothing less,” they said.

Major General Debold M. Sinas, head of the National Capital Region police, celebrated his birthday with a party early this month despite protocols prohibiting mass gatherings.

He has been charged for violating quarantine protocols, along with 18 other policemen, but has not been ordered to step down from his post.

Senator Aquilino L. Pimentel is also facing charges for breaching quarantine protocols when he accompanied his wife who was due to deliver their child at the Makati Medical Center last March.

Mr. Pimentel tested positive for coronavirus.

According to the World Justice Project 2020, the Philippines has one of the weakest rule of law in the East Asia and the Pacific region, ranking 91st out of 128 countries in the Rule of Law index, same as last year.

The country rose in the ease of doing business ranking at 95 from 124 last year, according to the World Bank Doing Business 2020 report, citing the abolishment of the minimum capital requirement for domestic companies and by easing construction permit processing and streamlining process to secure occupancy certificates. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Senator wants probe on OWWA assistance to returning overseas workers

Franklin M. Drilon Corporation Code

A RESOLUTION seeking to look into the operations of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in assisting returning overseas workers has been filed in the Senate.

Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon filed Senate Resolution No. 417 after finding OWWA’s assistance to workers displaced by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as “insufficient and dismal.”

Mr. Drilon said the agency has yet to tap its P20-billion OWWA Fund, sourced from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and has so far only facilitated the provision of food packages, transportation and accommodation of workers.

The Fund “could be and should be utilized to help OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing them adequate financial, livelihood and other assistance,” the resolution read in part.

It may be used to benefit returning workers through insurance coverage, legal assistance, placement assistance, remittance services, skills and career development, among others.

On top of this, OWWA has a P1.58 billion allocation under the 2020 national budget, Mr. Drilon noted.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on May 26 ordered the agency, along with the labor and health departments, to immediately send home 24,000 repatriated workers who have been stuck in quarantine facilities in Metro Manila for over two months.

Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello said on Friday some 19,000 workers have already been transported to their hometowns.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs continues to repatriate Filipinos affected by the pandemic that has infected 6.1 million and killed more than 370,000 people worldwide.

Some 150 overseas Filipinos from Malaysia and India arrived on Saturday, bringing the number of repatriates to more than 31,000 since February.

In its May 30 report, the Department said there are 2,869 confirmed cases involving Filipinos abroad, including 1,554 active cases. The remaining 975 have recovered, while 340 have died.

In another development, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) warned the public against schemes online promising employment after the ongoing country-wide quarantine.

“The public is warned of promises of online scammers for job interview and deployment after the ‘lockdown’ or after ‘lifting of the quarantine,’” reads POEA Advisory No. 62 dated May 22.

These online advertisements usually ask for reservation fees and/or personal information.

POEA said legitimate online employment advertisements must state the following, but not limited to: Name of the licensed recruitment agency, the agency’s registration number, job positions, qualifications, and salaries.

Payments must be made to the recruitment agencies.

“Absent these information, the POEA urges the public to ignore the advertisements,” it said.

POEA’s Website has a verification system for licensed recruitment agencies and available jobs. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez

Senate panel finalizes Bayanihan law extension, stimulus package

THE measures extending President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s special powers until September and the proposed economic stimulus package are being finalized, the Senate committee on finance said on Sunday.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who chairs the panel, said they are planning to endorse the extension of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and the economic stimulus during Monday’s session.

“Trying for tomorrow,” Mr. Angara said in a phone message, “Just awaiting comments from senators and agencies before finalizing committee report.”

The panel, joint with the committee on economic affairs, last week tackled the Bayanihan law, which granted Mr. Duterte the authority until June to realign the budget to fund measures in response to the coronavirus disease 2019.

Congress will adjourn on June 3 and is set to open the second regular session on July 27. At least four economic stimulus bills have been filed, with proposals ranging from P108 billion to P600 billion.

Mr. Angara said the panel has yet to agree on the amount.

The House of Representatives has approved on second reading the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act, which will inject P1.3 trillion between 2020-2023 to aid workers and businesses. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Party-list rep files bill for mandatory registration of stranded, abandoned workers

CONSTRUCTION Workers Solidarity Party-List Rep. Romeo S. Momo has filed a bill mandating the registration of all stranded and displaced workers to expedite government aid in times of crisis such as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Under House Bill 6813, employers will be required submit a list of all affected workers within five days from the declaration of a lockdown to the barangay or local government as well as to the field office of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Mr. Momo said while stranded workers are supposedly covered by the Social Amelioration Program of the government, “some still fall through the cracks and remain unassisted and because of the direness of the situation, many of the stranded workers, majority of which are construction workers, were forced to beg or use social media to call for donations and relief goods.”

If passed into law, employers face fines or imprisonment for non-compliance.

The bill is currently pending at the committee level in the House of Representatives. — Genshen L. Espedido

Poe appeals for faster cell site rollout for digital learning

THE Senate committee on public services appealed to President Rodrigo R. Duterte to order a faster rollout of cell sites across the country for improved connectivity as the education sector is expected to tap more digital learning options amid the coronavirus threat.

“We appeal to the President to put to task all sources or causes of delay in the construction of the necessary infrastructure to enable us to connect effectively with our students who are aspiring for better lives,” Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, committee chair, said in a statement on Sunday.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology had said there are currently only 20,000 towers in the country and 50,000 cell sites are pending installation.

The Department of Education has set the reopening of classes on August 24, with minimal face-to-face interactions through alternative learning platforms. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Courts in GCQ areas to continue virtual hearings

THE Supreme Court will allow trial courts in areas under the general community quarantine (GCQ) category to continue conducting hearings through videoconferencing.

In a statement Sunday, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez said this was approved by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta in a circular, following the physical closure of courts due to the strict lockdown as part of mitigation measures to stop the coronavirus spread.

“Hence, for example, if a party wishes his/her case to be heard via videoconferencing, the proper motion just needs to be filed, and the court, using its sound discretion, can either grant or deny the motion,” Mr. Marquez said, adding that it applies to both civil and criminal cases.

Courts in areas that were first placed under eased lockdown were allowed to open with skeleton staff starting May 18. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas