Private sector-led Project ARK to cover COVID-19 testing for returning overseas workers

PROJECT ARK, a private sector-led program intended to assist in the government’s coronavirus testing operations, has offered to cover returning overseas Filipino workers to minimize backlogs after the Philippine Red Cross halted services due to payment collection issues with the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). “Handa raw sila i-subject sa PCR testing ang mga bumabalik na OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) at overseas Filipinos natin sa kanilang (They are ready to subject returning OFWs and overseas Filipinos to PCR testing in their) 11 laboratories,” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in a briefing on Thursday. Philippine Red Cross has resumed services for tests charged to the state-run PhilHealth after half of the over P1 billion in dues was paid earlier this week. However, Red Cross Chairman and Senator Richard J. Gordon warned of another debt accumulation that restricts their own operations and ability to purchase test kits. The Philippine Red Cross offers one of the lowest rates at P3,500 for an RT-PCR test, which could cost as much as P20,000 in some private laboratories. Mr. Roque said President Rodrigo R. Duterte will soon issue an order setting a cap on coronavirus testing fees. — Gillian M. Cortez 

Speaker Velasco adds voice to OFW department push

HOUSE SPEAKER Lord Allan Q. Velasco on Thursday joined calls to immediately pass the proposed law that will create a Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), citing its urgency amid the coronavirus pandemic that has affected the global labor force. “The onslaught of the pandemic on the economy and the people’s livelihood, particularly on our Filipino workers abroad, has once again highlighted the urgency of creating a department solely for the needs of our overseas Filipino workers,” Mr. Velasco said in a statement. President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday asked Congress to fast-track the bill, which he intends to certify as urgent. The House of Representatives in March approved on third and final reading its version of the measure, House Bill No. 5832, or the Department of Filipino Overseas Act. “Once the Senate passes its own version, we assure President Duterte that the House will act on it in swift fashion so this can be signed into law,” Mr. Velasco said. Meanwhile, Albay 2nd District Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, chair of the ways and means committee, has filed another bill that will mandate the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to provide investment counselling services for OFWs. House Bill No. 7932, the OFW Investor Protection Act, seeks to establish an Office of the OFW Investor Advocacy under the OWWA, whose administrator will be nominated by the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Under the proposed OFW department, OWWA will become its attached agency. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Ex-gov’t lawyer asks court to stop COVID-19 fund distribution under Bayanihan II

A FORMER government corporate counsel asked the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of Republic Act No. 11494, or Bayanihan II, claiming that the law has already expired. In a 51-page petition, lawyer Rudolf Philip B. Jurado asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction to stop the disbursement of public funds under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act as it already lapsed on Oct. 12. The Bayanihan II law provides P165.5 billion for the government’s response program on the crisis prompted by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). He also sought to stop the emergency powers granted under the law. Mr. Jurado said the law ceased to be effective on Oct. 12 when Congress’ regular session adjourned for the special session from Oct. 13 to 16. He also said that the respondents committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction when they continued to process and/or disburse funds after Oct. 12. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Zarate casts doubt on Duterte’s anti-corruption drive

“LITTLE OR nothing” will come out of the government-wide corruption probe ordered by the President, a progressive lawmaker said Thursday. House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said not much could be expected from President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s call to investigate corruption allegations in the entire bureaucracy as the country’s leader himself has been perpetuating patronage politics. “Little or nothing will come out of this especially since President Duterte himself has a penchant for absolving his people even before an investigation has started like what he did to DOH (Health) Secretary Francisco Duque, DPWH (Public Works) Secretary (Mark) Villar, (police) Gen. Debold Sinas and many others before them,” Mr. Zarate said. He also questioned the need to create a separate body under the Executive branch to go after alleged corrupt officials. Meanwhile, ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric G. Yap blasted Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Commissioner (PACC) Greco Antonious Beda B. Belgica for saying that corrupt lawmakers get as much as a 15% cut for every infrastructure project. Mr. Yap said it is a disrespect to Congress to accuse lawmakers of corruption without identifying them and showing evidence. “He should have shown their names. What he is doing is unfair,” Mr. Yap said in a press conference Thursday. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza