Duterte likely to approve cap on COVID-19 testing fee

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte will likely approve the health department’s recommendation of setting a price cap on RT-PCR testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“Ang Presidente po ay nag-issue ng (The President issued an) executive order imposing price caps sa medicines so I don’t think it is impossible for him to issue this executive order (on testing fee),” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in a briefing on Tuesday.

The Department of Health (DoH) made the recommendation on standardizing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing fee using RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) following reports of varied rates, with some laboratories and hospitals charging as much as P10,000.

Mr. Roque noted that the private-sector led Project ARK is offering cheaper RT-PCR testing at P1,750 to P2,000.

In another development, Mr. Roque said the government is unsure if the Philippines will be prioritized by the United States in terms of vaccine procurement without paying an Advance Market Commitment (AMC)

“We don’t know if any company in the United States will in fact give us without payment of AMC, but he’s (Mr. Duterte) sure that if it comes from Russia, if it comes from China, we can,” Mr. Roque said.

Mr. Duterte earlier this month criticized Western companies for requiring fees for vaccines that are still being developed.

Despite the criticism, the Palace said the Philippines will continue its cooperation with the Gavi COVAX alliance, which will allow easier access of members to COVID-19 vaccines. — Gillian M. Cortez

DSWD eyes P10-B emergency fund balance for livelihood assistance

THE DEPARTMENT of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is planning to tap P10 billion of the remaining emergency subsidy fund to distribute livelihood assistance to over 664,000 households.

DSWD on Tuesday reported that it has P10 billion savings from its budget for the social amelioration program, where low-income households affected by the coronavirus pandemic were given P5,000-8,000 each.

“We have a remaining of P10 billion still in our funds,” DSWD Secretary Rolando J. Bautista told senators.

He said its use will depend on the “instruction from the DBM (Department of Budget and Management), whether to return or realign.”

Mr. Bautista said the DSWD already has a proposal to use the fund for a livelihood program that will grant P15,000 each to 664,726 households.

“We actually intend to use that for part of the recovery, for the livelihood assistance grant. We already have the proposal, but as we had mentioned earlier, this should be approved by the OP (Office of the President).”

The DSWD has disbursed P99.9 billion for the first tranche of subsidy, benefitting P17.9 million households, and P83.1 billion for 13.9 million families for the second tranche, as provided under the first Bayanihan law.

For the second tranche, the department reduced the targeted beneficiaries to almost 14 million after learning from the local government units that some households were also recipients of subsidies from the labor and agriculture departments.

“During the validation and process, we were able to find out that there are lots of family beneficiaries who received more than one subsidy,” Mr. Bautista said.

“So, what we did was those who we have identified as double compensation, we did not include them in the second tranche.”

Senator Ralph G. Recto questioned the reduction in the number of beneficiaries, as opposed to the 18 million provided in the law.

The Finance sub-committee was tackling the P169.2 billion budget of DSWD for 2021, slightly higher than the P164 billion appropriated last year. The panel moved to endorse the budget for plenary deliberation.

Under the National Expenditure Program, P113 million will be allocated to the conditional cash transfer grant called Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program and P23 million social pension for senior citizens among others. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Interior secretary says crime rate dropped by nearly 50%

CRIME RATE in the Philippines dropped by nearly 50% during the six months starting mid-March, according to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

In a televised meeting on Monday, DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año said only 16,789 crime incidents were reported from the start of the quarantine on March 17, a 47% reduction from the preceding six-month period.

“(F)rom 172 cases a day noon pong bago mag (before the) lockdown, naging (it went down to) 92 cases per day,” he said.

The number covers “eight focus crimes,” including robbery, car theft, and rape.

In a separate statement released Tuesday, Mr. Año said the data refutes the allegations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other critics of the administration that crimes, especially killings related to illegal drugs, increased during the quarantine period.

“These are nothing but baseless and bloated allegations of the leftist groups and their cohorts claiming an increase on extra-judicial killings just to mislead the public and demonize the administration,” he said.

“The entire PNP (Philippine National Police) was mobilized for COVID response, the crime rate nationwide dropped significantly, our people mostly stayed at home, curfew was implemented, the streets are relatively quiet, and now they will claim that extra-judicial killings increased?” he added. — Gillian M. Cortez and Emmanuel Tupas/PHILSTAR

DFA raises alert level in Mali, asks Filipinos there to be ready for evacuation

THE DEPARTMENT of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has raised the alert level in the West African country of Mali as it transitions to a new government following a military coup last month.

Alert Level 2 was raised on Sept. 18 “due to the current political and security situation in that country,” the DFA said in a statement on Tuesday.

Such a level, also billed as “Restriction Phase,” is raised when there are threats to life, security, and property of Filipinos arising from internal disturbances, instability, or external threat.

“During Alert Level 2, Filipinos are instructed to restrict non-essential movements, avoid public places, and prepare for evacuation,” the DFA said.

Filipino migrants in Mali have been asked to coordinate with the Philippine Embassy in Rabat, Morocco for assistance.

In a separate development, the department said it has repatriated 31-year old Rose Policarpio, an overseas Filipino worker who was in death row for alleged murder in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Ms. Policarpio’s eventual acquittal is an example of the government’s commitment in protecting and promoting the rights of our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers),” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Y. Arriola said in a statement.

“This is a vindication of Ms. Policarpio and a clear declaration of her innocence.”

It took six years to settle the case of Ms. Policarpio over the death of her lady employer. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Ombudsman defends restricted access to SALNs; stops lifestyle checks on gov’t officials

OMBUDSMAN SAMUEL R. Martires on Tuesday said the conduct of lifestyle checks does not prove that a public official is corrupt, and at the same time defended his recent order restricting public access to officials’ Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN)

During the House hearing on the proposed 2021 budget of the Office of the Ombudsman, Mr. Martires said his office has stopped conducting lifestyle checks on government officials, adding that he was about to propose an amendment to Republic Act 6713, a law that establishes the code of conduct and ethical standards for public servants.

“When I assumed office, I ordered the stoppage of lifestyle checks. For a long time, I have doubts on the provision of the law regarding lifestyle checks. The pandemic just came in, but I was about to propose to Congress to amend (RA) 6713 because its provisions there are vague, illogical,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

RA 6173 provides that “Public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income” and that “they should not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”

“Who are we to judge these people, on why someone bought a BMW (vehicle) despite having a small house and lacking parking space? Who are we to say that? Should we meddle in the life of someone if he’s not a plunderer,” he said in Filipino.

“This law has victimized so many people.”

During the hearing, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro raised concerns on the Ombudsman’s Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2020, which restricts the public, including the media, from getting copies of SALNs.

The order covers the 2019 SALNs of government officials and employees filed on August 30 this year.

Under Mr. Martires’ order, government agencies also cannot easily access the SALNs of public servants even for the purpose of a lifestyle check.

“What is it (SALN) for? The SALN is only being used to demonize government officials,” he said in Filipino.

Mr. Martires said SALNs cannot prove the guilt of an official accused of plunder.

In December 2019, former Presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said President Rodrigo R. Duterte does not need to release his 2018 SALN.

Mr. Panelo said the responsibility to make public the President’s SALN, if it’s for the purpose of scrutiny, lies on the Ombudsman.

A copy of the document has yet to be made public.

The President appointed Mr. Martires in 2018. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

NBI official arrested for bribery

AN OFFICIAL of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been arrested for accepting bribes from those involved in the money-making scheme of facilitating the illegal entry of foreign nationals.

NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand M. Lavin confirmed in a text message that NBI’s Legal Assistance Section chief Joshua Paul Capiral was arrested on Monday, but did not give details yet on the case.

In a Senate hearing, NBI Anti-Trafficking Division chief Janet Francisco also confirmed the arrest of Mr. Capiral in an entrapment operation.

The NBI early this month filed a corruption complaint against 19 Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials and employees found involved in the scheme.

An owner of a travel agency who pays the immigration officers for the entry of its Chinese passengers without the necessary documents was also recommended to be charged with corruption.

The BI welcomed the arrest of the NBI official.

“We will continue to pursue our campaign against BI personnel engaged in corrupt activities in coordination with NBI and other law enforcement agencies in support of President Duterte’s desire to cleanse the agency,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said in a statement.   

Mr. Morente said they also support the recommendations of the Senate committee for the reorganization and suspension of those involved. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas