OFWs withdraw from repatriation program as host countries roll out vaccines

A NUMBER of Filipino migrant workers have withdrawn from the government’s repatriation program as their host countries have started vaccinations against the coronavirus, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday. DFA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Y. Arriola, in a televised press briefing on Wednesday, said a number of Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have backpedalled on their plan to return home with the renewed confidence on economic opportunities abroad. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) Hans Leo J. Cacdac earlier said around 80,000 OFWs planned to return to the Philippines in the first half of 2021. “We noticed that many OFWs are backing out (of the repatriation program), especially in Middle East, because mass vaccination programs are now implemented in their host countries,” said Ms. Arriola. “We heard that the plan of Middle East countries, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), is to have herd immunity before the Ramadan,” she added. “Many of our countrymen are now deciding to stay in their ‘country of destination’.” Citing data as of January 12, Ms. Arriola said more than 342,000 overseas workers returned to the country since repatriation efforts began in February last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Vaccine czar assures equitable vaccine distribution nationwide

THE national government will assist local governments that cannot afford to procure vaccines for their constituents, the vaccine czar assured on Wednesday, as urban areas with higher income have cornered advance orders from British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca Plc. “Provinces and towns that cannot procure their vaccines, we will provide the vaccines. If others lack supply, we will fill that gap,” Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said in mixed English and Filipino in a televised press briefing. The national government will sign on Thursday an agreement with AstraZeneca for 20 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine. Mr. Galvez also assured that the cold chain facilities needed to store the vaccines and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for health frontliners who will be involved in the inoculation program would be provided by the national government. The government could begin distributing vaccines to the public as early as February, Mr. Galvez said.  At the same briefing, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian asked the national government to allow local governments and private firms to directly purchase vaccines from manufacturers to speed up the rollout. The government, meanwhile, is beefing up its information campaign regarding the country’s vaccination program. At the same briefing, Philippine News Agency Director General Ramon L. Cualoping III said the Presidential Communications Operations Office will hold online townhall meetings with representatives from the Philippine Medical Association and Philippine Nurses Association, among others, to brief the public on the coronavirus vaccine program and address reservations and concerns. “We were given the mandate to hold information drives in priority areas across the nation,” he said in Filipino. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Solon dismisses ‘constituent assembly’ claim of Charter change chair

A LAWMAKER has dismissed the assertion of a fellow House of Representatives member that Wednesday’s committee meeting constitutes a “constituent assembly.” Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel C. Lagman pointed out that a constituent assembly will need the presence of both senators and congressmen. Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr., chair of the House committee on constitutional amendment, said during Wednesday’s hearing on the proposed economic provision adjustments is already considered a “constituent assembly.” Mr. Lagman further said voting on the proposed changes in the Constitution will need a resolution from the Supreme Court before it proceeds. “This will have to be resolved by the Supreme Court… we will not have sufficient time to effectuate any proposed amendment,” Mr. Lagman said. House members are pushing for the lifting of restrictions on foreign ownership in certain sectors, which is seen to attract investments in the country and boost the economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Economists, among them former socioeconomic secretary Ernesto D. Pernia, invited to the hearing expressed support for the proposals, citing that the Philippines has the most restrictive policies among southeast Asian countries. “The easing of restrictions on foreign participation of the economy is very important because it is not only going to speed up economic growth but also improve quality of growth,” said Mr. Pernia. On the other hand, Rosario Guzman, executive director of the non-profit research foundation IBON, said allowing more foreign control in certain sectors will hamper goals on having policies focused on local needs and instead build on the demand of foreign investors. “We will become even less able to pursue effective measures to build national industries,” she said. — Gillian M. Cortez

Law on hybrid election needed by Feb for implementation in 2022 polls

CONGRESS needs to pass the measure providing for the conduct of a hybrid election by February to allow the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to implement it in the May 2022 national and local polls, the senate leader said. “January to February now, kapag naipasa namin, madali nilang magagawa (when we pass it, Comelec can work on it),” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said at an online media forum on Wednesday. Senate Bill No. 1950, the Hybrid Election Act, is now pending second reading in the Senate. It is among the priority measures of the chamber when sessions resume on Jan. 18. Six counterpart bills have been filed at the House of Representatives, which are all pending at the committee level. If enacted, the system will allow a combination of automated election and manual election, intended to ensure transparency and credibility of the electoral process. Mr. Sotto said this will also allow Comelec to move the filing date of the certificate of candidacy to January 2022, instead of October 2021. He added Comelec may also opt to conduct a three-day election in 2022 to observe physical distancing in polling stations, should the coronavirus pandemic persist. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Senator pushes for realignment of GOCC subsidy to vaccine procurement

THE subsidy allotted to non-performing government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) in the 2021 national budget must be realigned to boost the country’s inoculation drive against coronavirus, a senator said on Wednesday. Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said the Department of Finance (DoF) is already studying the suggested realignment of some P200 billion in subsidies appropriated to “unproductive” GOCCs to augment the funds needed for the procurement of vaccines. “This was my suggestion and the DoF is already studying this. We are looking into the GOCCs that are not productive or not generating revenue, to use the supposed subsidies for other important matters,” he said during a televised press briefing in mixed English and Filipino. Senators earlier urged the national government through the DoF to re-channel the assistance to government-owned firms under the P4.5-trillion national budget to pandemic and typhoon response efforts. They cited 118 GOCCs that remitted only P47 billion in dividends last year. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza