Digal, Fuentes named ERC commissioners

LAWYER Floresinda G. Baldo-Digal and accountant Marko Romeo L. Fuentes have been appointed as commissioners for the Energy Regulation Commission (ERC), the Palace announced Monday. Ms. Digal has spent her 26-year career with the ERC and been the agency’s spokesperson since 2015. She was also designated executive director in February this year. Mr. Fuentes is a Certified Public Accountant and the vice-chair of the Board of Accountancy of the Professional Regulation Commission. “We hope the appointment of Ms. Digal and Mr. Fuentes will promote and protect the interests of ordinary power consumers especially in this challenging time,” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in a statement Monday. ERC Chairperson Agnes VST Devanadera, in a separate statement, said, “ERC will be further strengthened to meet the extra challenges posed by the pandemic with the appointment of the two new Commissioners.” — Gillian M. Cortez

Duterte’s 5th SONA to focus on coronavirus

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), which he will physically deliver at the Batasan Pambansa on July 27, will focus on accomplishments and proposed measures relating to the coronavirus crisis. “I think it would be obvious that he would be talking about COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), impact on the country and steps taken to deal with COVID-19,” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said on Monday. He added that with two years left, Mr. Duterte will also discuss his plans for the remainder of his six-year term. — Gillian M. Cortez

Healthcare decentralization not matched by LGU fiscal capacity

PHILIPPINE Coast Guard officers check the temperature of stranded residents as they disembark from the BRP Cape Engaño vessel, which brought home 25 people to Bohol on July 11 from Manila. — PCG

THE DECENTRALIZATION of public healthcare services has been ineffective due to a mismatch in the financial capacity and devolved functions of local governments, according to a study of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS). In a statement released Monday, the state think tank said the result of the first study conducted by PIDS Supervising Research Specialist Janet Cuenca showed a decline in level of hospital inpatient services between 2006 and 2013 due to the inadequate budget of local government units (LGUs) to maintain and upgrade their health facilities. The study examined the effect of health devolution on hospital inpatient services in 54 provinces. Health services are devolved to LGUs under the Local Government Code of 1991, mandating them to operate and maintain health facilities in their areas. “Health devolution was supposed to increase LGU spending on healthcare delivery services to achieve better health outcomes. However, this has not been the case in most LGUs in the country,” PIDS said. It also said that the health fund in the LGUs’ internal revenue allotment (IRA), or their share from the national budget, have been insufficient to finance the operations of devolved hospitals, pay the salaries of health workers, and procure hospital beds and other health supplies. Ms. Cuenca also noted in a second study the “mismatch in the fiscal capacity of LGUs and the devolved mandates” as well as the unclear expenditure assignments between the local and national levels which “led to inefficiencies in the delivery of health services in LGUs.” PIDS recommended the review and amendment of taxing powers of provinces, and the IRA formula. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Coast Guard records spike in coronavirus cases among officers, personnel

THE PHILIPPINE Coast Guard (PCG) reported on Monday 52 new coronavirus cases among its officers and personnel, specifically those deployed to assist returning overseas Filipinos, stranded residents, other frontline workers, and maritime stakeholders. “This month, the PCG has recorded an all-time high increase in the number of confirmed positive cases among its officers and personnel,” the agency said in a statement. There are a total of 365 infected PCG members, with 256 active cases and 109 recoveries as of July 18. Despite the situation, PCG Commandant Vice Admiral George V. Ursabia, Jr. said they are not slowing down on their tasks, which include swabbing operations for returning overseas workers. “At this time, we cannot afford to totally pull out to rest and recuperate. We will have to hold the line and do whatever it takes to render service, even if it entails the ultimate sacrifice for that is what we swore to when we took our oath,” Mr. Ursabia said.

Illegal wildlife trade law with harsher penalties needed — Cimatu

A LAW with harsher penalties for illegal wildlife trade is needed to curb criminals, according to Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu. “Republic Act No. 9147 (the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001) should be amended to include a mandatory minimum jail term of six years for those found guilty of the criminal acts defined under the law,” Mr. Cimatu said on Monday, adding that there should be no eligibility for probation. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) arrested two suspected illegal wildlife traders in Tondo, Manila on July 10 and recovered 42 various species of threatened and endangered turtles with an estimated value of P550,000. Rogelio D. Demelletes, senior ecosystems specialist at the Biodiversity Management Bureau, said the illegal wildlife trade in the country has not slowed down despite the coronavirus pandemic. He cited that the DENR has confiscated P37 million worth of illegal wildlife since March 2020, with seven suspects arrested. “The penalties appear to be not enough to make wildlife offenders stop their criminal acts as the fines are too low compared to the millions they earn from trading wildlife species,” Mr. Demelletes said. Under Republic Act No. 9147, the penalty depends on the act committed and the conservation status of the wildlife caught. The maximum penalties are imposed on people guilty of killing critically endangered wildlife, with imprisonment of six years and one day to 12 years and/or payment of a fine ranging from P100,000 to P1 million. Penalties for wildlife hunting and trading range from two to four years of imprisonment and/or a fine of P30,000 to P300,000 for hunting and P5,000 to P300,000 for trading. Penalty on illegal transport of wildlife is from six months to one year imprisonment and/or a fine ranging from P50,000 to P100,000. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

Polio immunization campaign resumes

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) has resumed its polio immunization campaign after being put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. In a statement Monday, the DoH said the next phase of the Sabayang Patak Kontra Polio campaign, specifically in Mindanao, will restart on July 20 until Aug. 2. The campaign is supported by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund. New polio immunization campaigns for children below five will begin in a phased approach in Central Luzon on July 20 and in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Rizal next month. A polio outbreak was announced on Sept. 19 last year after almost two decades that the country has been free from the disease. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas