More economic activities to be allowed as healthcare facilities increase

INCREASED ECONOMIC activities will gradually be allowed as healthcare facilities expand, based on a new resolution from the national inter-agency task force handling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response.

The task force, through Resolution No. 76 dated October 2 and released to the public on Monday, approved the recommendation of the administration’s economic and development cluster to “further reopening of the country in increments proportional to the healthcare capacity of the country.”

The latest guidelines also allow the further reopening of mass transportation, but still with minimum health standards such as distancing and use of face masks and shields.

Current quarantine classifications in all areas will also be maintained, with possible escalation of the restriction level to be undertaken only as a last resort should there be a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in a locality. — Gillian M. Cortez 

OSG budget hearing deferred due to Calida absence, questionable travel funds

A SENATE panel on Monday deferred deliberation of the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) 2021 budget over the absence of the agency’s top official, Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, and questionable allocations such as travel funds.

The OSG has allocated P29.499 million for its travel funds, 87% of which are  earmarked for foreign travels despite restrictions amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“COVID-19 will remain a serious threat next year, where will you go for foreign travel? The 2020 foreign travel fund was not used, now you are asking for a bigger allocation?” Senator Francis N. Tolentino said in mixed English and Filipino during the finance committee hearing. Mr. Calida skipped the hearing for the OSG’s P1.116 billion proposed budget, explaining in a letter that he was advised to take a five-day rest.

He was represented by Assistant Solicitor General Henry S. Angeles.

Mr. Tolentino also raised the Commission on Audit (CoA) report that ranked Mr. Calida as the second highest paid government official in 2019, next to Higinio O. Macadaeg, Jr., former president and chief executive officer of the Union Coconut Planters Bank.

“I don’t have the exact figures on what the SolGen receives specifically but from what I understand he receives allowances from the client-agencies that the office of the solicitor general services,” Mr. Angeles said.

Mr. Tolentino, however, cited a CoA circular stating that allowances should not exceed 50% of the annual salary of the solicitor general. Mr. Calida earned P16.95 million last year, according to CoA’s Report on Salaries and Allowances. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Solon recommends use of QR codes for transport payment system

A LAWMAKER on Monday proposed the use of quick response (QR) codes as an alternative to smart cards for contactless payment in public transport.

Samar Rep. Edgar Mary S. Sarmiento, chair of the House of Representatives transportation committee, said the use of QR codes would be more “cost-effective and environmentally-friendly” since there wouldn’t be a demand to mass produce plastic reloadable cards.

“The DoTr (Department of Transportation) can create their own fare reloading app using various forms of electronic wallets and  various electronic banking platforms or they can tap the private sector to do this for them,” Mr. Sarmiento said.

The DoTr suspended starting Monday the mandatory use of smart cards for the EDSA bus system under the less than a week-old “No Beep card, no ride” policy after commuters, especially the daily wage earners, complained of the card cost.

“Giving away these free beep cards is simply unsustainable because who would spend to mass manufacture these beep cards. Sooner or later, our commuters would have to pay for these beep cards because the production is not free,” Mr. Sarmiento said.

“Going cashless in our public transportation is the way to go. QR Codes and Beep cards is the future of Philippine public transportation,” he added. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Party-list bloc denounce removal of Romero as deputy speaker

A 54-MEMBER party-list bloc slammed the removal of their president, 1-Pacman Party-list Rep. Michael L. Romero, from his post as deputy speaker amid the leadership tussle at the House of Representatives

The Partylist Coalition Foundation, Inc. (PCFI) said the removal of Mr. Romero, an ally of Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Jay Q. Velaso, is no longer an issue of personality politics but a matter of how the chamber treats the party-list system.

Mr. Velasco is supposed to take over the House Speaker seat, currently held by Taguig Rep. Alan Peter S. Cayetano, by October this year under a term-sharing deal brokered by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

The group added that they are entitled to one deputy speaker position since they comprise 20% of the House’s total membership.

“The delicate balance, carefully negotiated at the start of the 18th Congress, now teeters on the precipice of instability because that Deputy Speakership was transferred to a District Representative and there are now threats involving committee leadership posts,” PCFI said in a statement.

The group said the removal of Mr. Romero from his post did not follow proper procedure as “no voting procedure ever happened.”

Deputy Majority Leader Xavier Jesus D. Romualdo, representing Camiguin, moved to replace Mr. Romero with Capiz 2nd District Rep. Fredinil H. Castro during last Friday’s hybrid plenary session.

Mr. Castro, a known ally of Mr. Cayetano, earlier blasted Mr. Velasco and his supporting camps.

Mr. Romero’s removal took less than a minute, which surprised Mr. Velasco’s allies who were not physically present at the plenary hall due to a House rule that limits the number of participants during proceedings.

A majority of House members only participate in proceedings via Zoom, a teleconferencing app where lawmakers can be muted anytime. “We, the members of the Party-list Coalition are reduced to being virtual remote spectators while those physically present on the floor have their way,” the coalition said.

The PCFI said they are asserting their “right” to be physically present during House proceedings so they can “swiftly take action given the flurry of tactical maneuvers happening at plenary, far from the limits placed on us who participate only remotely and virtually.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza