Senate approves vaccine law on final reading

THE Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a measure seeking to expedite the procurement of vaccines against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and set an indemnification fund. With 22 votes, the Senate approved Bill No. 2057, which has been certified as urgent by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. “With this measure, we hope to see the start of the inoculation of our population, starting with the priority sectors, at the shortest possible time,” Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara said in a statement. “We as a people have lost so much because of the pandemic — in terms of jobs, opportunities and human life. However, we believe that with this measure, we have not lost out on the belief that there will in fact be an end to this ordeal,” the bill’s sponsor added. Under the measure, local government units and the private sector will be allowed to purchase vaccines through coordination with the Department of Health and the national task force against COVID-19. Local governments will be allowed to procure up to 75% of their target population for vaccination, but this cap may be adjusted by the inter-agency task force when there is sufficient supply as determined by the national government. Local governments will also be allowed to make an advance payment of up to 50% of the contract price if required by the supplier, manufacturer or distributor. The bill also allocates P500 million in the 2021 budget to augment the funds of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., which will be the administrator of the indemnity fund. The Senate will transmit a copy of the measure to the House of Representatives, which approved its version of the bill  on Monday. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

PBED pushes for resumption of face-to-face classes

THE Philippine Business for Education (PBED), a private sector-led advocacy group, warned that longer delays in the resumption of face-to-face classes will be detrimental to students’ learning. In a statement on Tuesday, PBED Executive Director Love B. Basillote said, “If we can safely reopen the economy following health guidelines and protocols, what is preventing us from safely reopening our schools? We have around 3 million students who have dropped out of school this year because they cannot keep up with learning requirements,” she said. “With no alternatives left, we are abandoning a generation of young people. This has a grave impact on national development.” President Rodrigo R. Duterte has thumbed down twice the proposal to reopen schools, especially those in areas with zero or low coronavirus cases. His spokesman said the resumption of in-person learning is likely to restart in August. — Gillian M. Cortez

Child car seats now require gov’t certification for quality

CHILD car seats have been included in the list of products that must be certified by the government for quality before sale in the Philippine market, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said. Manufacturers and importers of child restraint systems must secure a Philippine Standard (PS) license or Import Commodity Clearance before selling their products in the country, the department said in a press release on Tuesday. The order was issued in response to the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act requiring children up to 12 years old, with a height of 150 centimeters or below, to use car seats. The full implementation of the law has been deferred. The PS safety certification mark will be available to local and foreign manufacturers deemed compliant with DTI requirements, while importers with non-PS certified products can apply for a clearance per shipment. The department plans  to conduct regular factory and product audits. DTI Bureau of Philippine Standards Director Neil P. Catajay said they aim “to ensure that child restraint system purchased in the market meets the specified safety requirements.” — Jenina P. Ibañez

Petitioners again ask court to issue restraining order vs anti-terror law

PETITIONERS have again asked the Supreme Court to immediately issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the implementation of the new anti-terror law while cases filed against it remain pending. Those questioning the law filed on Monday a 24-page Joint Reiterative Motion asking the country’s highest court to “urgently issue” a TRO to prevent authorities from applying the Anti-Terror Act of 2020, including its implementing rules and regulations. Thirty-seven petitions were filed questioning the constitutionality of the law that expands the definition of terror acts and the holding period for terror suspects, and gives the Executive branch judicial authority through the Anti-Terror Council. The petitioners said with the TRO, the law signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on July 3 last year “is presumed invalid pending resolution of this case.” Petitioners cited recent government actions that “have amplified the urgent need” for a TRO, such as the erroneous red-tagging of University of the Philippines alumni, and the arrest and detention of two indigenous people members for alleged violation of the law. Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta instructed the petitioners during the third session of the oral arguments on the cases last week to file a written request for the TRO. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

New task force to facilitate ex-rebels’ resettlement

A NEW inter-agency task force will be formed to facilitate the resettlement of former armed rebels as they return to the fold of the law, according to the presidential palace. This comes after President Rodrigo R. Duterte recently signed proclamations granting amnesty to former moro and communist fighters. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said the task force, led by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), will manage the relocation of returnees to provinces with idle government lands. The task force will also implement a “whole-of-nation approach for the enhancement of livelihood support projects to rebel returnees,” Mr. Nograles said in a televised press briefing on Tuesday. DAR is in charge of land distribution under the agrarian reform program. The palace official said Mr. Duterte has also given his nod to the DAR’s proposal to mandate the state’s armed forces to provide security measures in the government-owned lands. Mr. Duterte in 2018 formed a task force to quell the decades-old domestic communist insurgency, considered as the longest-running armed rebellion in Asia. Since assuming the presidency in 2016, the President has formed more than 15 task forces. Five task forces had been created in 2020 alone. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

NBI ordered to investigate new scheme on illegal entry of Chinese nationals

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Tuesday that he has directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe the illegal entry of Chinese nationals in the country through another money-making scheme allegedly carried out by certain travel agencies in connivance with immigration officers. Mr. Guevarra, in a Viber message to reporters, said the NBI is tasked to find out the personalities behind the scheme “so that appropriate administrative and criminal charges may be filed against them.” Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel issued a statement Monday calling on the NBI to identify the travel agencies engaged in the scheme, which allegedly involves selling fake passports and arranging the travel documents of Chinese nationals to illegally enter the Philippines in exchange for P550,000 each. Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said in a press statement that the agency has “already implemented several measures internally,” to address the illegal operation. A similar scheme was investigated by the Senate last year and Mr. Morente said “those accused — all 86 of them — have been relieved, suspended, and are now facing charges with the Department of Justice, NBI, and the Ombudsman.” Mr. Morente said the NBI’s recent arrest of a travel agent allegedly involved in “fixing” the documents of three Chinese nationals “was a significant step to stop this system by weeding out its roots.” He added, “While we have done internal cleansing and have put to justice those who were allegedly involved, expanding the probe to catch these illegal private entities will break the chain of corruption and stop this illegal scheme.” — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

Health advocates push for UHC law implementation

HEALTH advocates called on the government to prioritize the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law, intended to improve the delivery of health services, as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. Health advocacy group UHC Watch presented a manifesto in an online forum hosted by the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute on Feb. 19 urging the government to speed up the rollout of the law’s provisions. The group composed of CitizenWatch Philippines, Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations, Health Justice, and Bantay Konsyumer, Kalsada, Kuryente (BK3) said an “urgent improvement of the public health system” is crucial amid the health crisis, especially for the most vulnerable sectors. “Now that the millions of households are in dire straits, just trying to get to their next meal. A family member getting sick is the last thing we need. But should this happen, the quality of assistance that will be made accessible through the UHC programs will be the most important gauge of performance,” Louie C. Montemar, convenor of BK3, said in a statement. Former senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito, principal author of the law, said, “We must persistently remind (the) government (to) fulfill its mandate to deliver the programs of these laws. The success of our health programs will foster a productive workforce that will help push the country economic momentum and recovery,” he said. Jaime Galvez-Tan, former Health secretary and board member of Health Justice Philippines, said while there have been significant improvements in the health system, it is “still dealing with inequities and new challenges that threaten the health of its population while Filipinos continue to suffer a heavy financial burden from health spending.” President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed the UHC law on Feb. 20, 2019. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas