DoH supports appointment of lead person for COVID-19 vaccination

THE HEALTH department supports the proposed appointment of a “vaccine czar” by Malacañang to lead the vaccination program for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

One has, in fact, already been appointed two months ago, according to Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, but the name has yet to be released.

“He would like to wait for the President to make the announcement anew,” Mr. Roque said in a briefing on Monday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said the appointment of czars for priority COVID-19 strategies — particularly testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment — sped up the government’s response measures against the outbreak.

“If we are going to have a vaccine czar, of course the Department of Health (DoH) would very much welcome that,” she said in an online briefing Monday.

Nonetheless, Ms. Vergeire said the DoH already has existing protocols for vaccinations should there be no appointment.

“Kung hindi po tayo magkakaroon ng (If we will not have a) czar, we will still undergo the process that we usually have for  vaccines, implementation and distribution,” she said.

Senator Ralph G. Recto on Saturday urged Malacañang to appoint a vaccine czar who can address the challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution to the country’s entire population of around 110 million.

Mr. Recto said the appointed official should also be tasked with setting up a “supply-to-syringe cold chain” for vaccine storage.

Meanwhile, Mr. Roque said they will also heed the advice to create an interdisciplinary immunization committee to oversee vaccine concerns.

In a briefing on Monday, University of the Philippines Professor and Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Executive Director Lulu C. Bravo said other countries have a specific body that handles the immunization program, with members from the private and public sectors, and medical experts.

She also said that the Philippines has the highest vaccine hesitancy in the world, which needs to be addressed as part of preparations for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Gillian M. Cortez

Trade chief says basic goods SRP will stay unless businesses give ‘strong justification’

TRADE SECRETARY Ramon M. Lopez said the suggested retail prices (SRP) of basic goods should not be changed given the economic crisis, “unless with strong cost justification” from businesses.

The Trade department’s consumer protection group is currently reviewing requests to increase prices.

In a mobile message to reporters, Mr. Lopez said the applications are being reviewed carefully, noting that companies will first have to prove that their costs increased.

He asserted that SRPs should be maintained given the impact of the pandemic on consumption, unemployment numbers, and the strong peso.

The peso continued to strengthen against the dollar on Friday as the country recorded fewer coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases and amid continued talks on a US economic stimulus.

Last week, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it is evaluating applications from food companies to increase the prices of items normally served for the Christmas feast, or noche buena. The applications to raise prices range from less than 1% to 3%.

Mr. Lopez last month said prices of goods are expected to remain stable during the Christmas season as consumer demand remains weak. — Jenina P. Ibañez

Supreme Court asked to issue preliminary order vs anti-terrorism law

ONE OF the petitioners questioning the law that expanded terror crimes in the country asked the Supreme Court to issue a preliminary order against it following the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

In a 12-page manifestation, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged the court to issue a preliminary injunction against the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

It said the dangers of the implementation of the law “could no longer be ignored” with the issuance of its IRR.

“It constitutes a grave and immediate threat which the petitioners implore the Court to address by way of resolution of their pending applications for provisional injunctive relief,” it said.

Bayan noted that the IRR contained “the same objectionable and unconstitutional aspects” of the law, such as the vauge and overbroad definition of terrorism and related crimes, infringement of fundamental rights, and violation of separation of powers, it said.

A total of 37 petitions questioning the anti-terrorism law are pending before the high court.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker said on Monday that it is the duty of the House of Representatives as an institution to defend any of its members against baseless accusations, referring in particular to the red-tagging by a military officer.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, recently said members of the House Makabayan bloc are under state surveillance for their alleged ties with communist groups.

House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen S. Paduano said existing laws provide that state surveillance is illegal without a court order.

Section 3 of the 1987 Constitution provides that the government and its agents can only do surveillance work upon lawful order of the court.

Mr. Paduano reiterated that Mr. Parlade should not make such public accusations if he cannot defend his claim before a legal court.

“He sounds like a loose cannon and his words can do more harm than good to the government’s anti-insurgency efforts,” Mr. Paduano said as he dared Mr. Parlade to file charges.

The lawmaker reminded the government’s anti-insurgency task force that under the law, being a communist per se is not illegal unless one has taken up arms against the state. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

DoLE preparing for 3rd tranche of cash assistance to overseas workers

PREPARATIONS are underway for the third tranche of cash aid for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by the coronavirus global pandemic, according to a labor official.

In a briefing on Monday, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac said this batch of assistance will be the first to be sourced from funds allocated under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

The first two rounds were funded under the first Bayanihan law, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The Bayanihan laws provide response measures for the coronavirus crisis.

He said more than 300,000 OFWs have already benefitted from the program, which consists of a one time financial aid of P10,000 to each beneficiary.

Mr. Cacdac also reported that over 270,000 returning OFWs have already gone home to their provinces with assistance from the government. — Gillian M. Cortez