House Panel Okays 5 Bills to Boost Fight Against Virus

May 29, 2020

Source: Business Mirror, May 29, 2020

The House Defeat Covid-19 ad hoc Committee (DCC) on Thursday endorsed for plenary approval five more measures that will help the government’s fight against Covid-19.

The committee, co-chaired by Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, unanimously approved House Bill 6709, or the P1.5-trillion Covid-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020, HB 6623,
or the Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020 and HB 6707, or an Act encouraging a baseline polymerase chain reaction testing for Covid-19 among vulnerable members of society.

The panel also passed two resolutions urging the government to fast- track the disbursement of the second tranche of the social amelioration program and the commitment of the lower chamber to enact the proposed P66-billion supplemental budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Romualdez said these bills seek to restart the shuttered Philippine economy, generate jobs for displaced workers, and prevent the further spread of Covid-19 by imposing tests, strict mandatory safety and physical distancing protocols.

“We really have no choice but to fast-track the approval of these vital measures. We need to have these bills enacted into law as soon as possible if we want to rescue our people from further harm and even starvation in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Romualdez said.

CURES

Deputy Speaker for Finance Luis Raymund Villafuerte said this new P1.5-trillion stimulus package focusing on infrastructure spending and create more jobs in the countryside.

According to Villafuerte, HB 6709 is guaranteed to create a multitude of employment opportunities, especially in rural areas to partly make up for the jobs that were lost amid the pandemic.

Villafuerte said the proposal will help ease the pressure on the Duterte administration to create hundreds of thousands of jobs this year, now that the Covid-19 crisis has displaced almost 2.76 million workers.

Villafuerte said the bill will also seek to lend support to President Duterte’s Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa program.

Villafuerte said the bill aims to spur regional growth by allocating P1.5 trillion over the next three years for accelerated countryside spending on health, education, agriculture, local road and livelihood (HEAL) infrastructure.

New normal

The committee also approved the HB 6623, which Romualdez said, seeks to lay the groundwork that
will expedite citizen adaptation to the demands of the new normal life.

Romualdez said the bill aims to prepare and educate Filipinos for life after the lifting of the restrictions imposed by the national government and local government units (LGUs) to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Among the measures to be imposed in public places under HB 6623 are the mandatory wearing of face masks, availability of handwashing or sanitizing stations in public areas, body temperature checks and physical distancing of at least 1 meter, but preferably 2 meters, in all public spaces.

In public transportation, physical distancing also applies during queueing for tickets and in the interiors of vehicles. Contactless payment mechanisms will be implemented, and passengers will be required to wash their hands, or sanitize before boarding public-utility vehicles (PUVs). The operation of motorcycle taxis will remain suspended to prevent the spread of the virus through the use of common helmets and close contact between drivers and their passengers.

For schools and other learning institutions, on-site classes, sports and other extracurricular activities shall remain suspended subject to consultation with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). Online learning platforms will, in the meantime, be the primary mode of learning for students in all public and private schools. Once on-site classes gradually resume, the number of classes should be reduced and staggered class days should be implemented to enable students and teachers to comply with physical distancing protocols and other safety measures.

Under the bill, restaurants and other food service places may resume operations under a “new normal,” but initially only for take-out and delivery. Buffets and salad bars would be prohibited once dine-in services are gradually introduced, 2-meter distancing between diners should be strictly followed, and disposable, or non-shareable menu booklets and cutlery should be used as much as possible.

In banks, supermarkets, malls and most commercial spaces, the entry of people will be limited at any given time, and online transactions and shopping services, as well as cashless and contactless payments should be encouraged.
Salons, parlors and spas, once allowed to reopen, should strictly observe frequent handwashing, disinfecting and cleaning practices, including the sanitizing of scissors and other tools.

Applicable safety and distancing measures should also be applied on construction sites, industrial workplaces, offices, call centers, and other public spaces.

Testing

The panel also approved the HB 6707, which seeks to Establish Baseline PCR testing as the protocol for Covid-19 testing and requires that these be made available, affordable and accessible.

Under the bill, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, former secretary of Health, said the testing shall not exceed the amount of P1,700 for the government institution and P1,800 for private institution per asymptomatic vulnerable person tested.

The measure mandates the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to shoulder the cost of testing for vulnerable members of society who shall undergo baseline PCR testing to detect Covid-19 infection.

Impact

Also, the committee adopted two resolutions to cushion the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, urging the national government to fast-track the disbursement of the second tranche of the social amelioration program (SAP) emergency cash subsidy by authorizing the barangay to identify the beneficiaries and disburse the allocation fairly, efficiently and responsibly.

Also, a resolution expressing the commitment of the House to enact the proposed P66-billion supplemental budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to support its programs in addressing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in the areas of food and nutrition, security and price stability was also adopted.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said a P66-billion stimulus package is needed for the agriculture sector to boost food production.

According to Dar, the P66-billion stimulus package for agriculture sector will include P31 billion for Alpas Kontra sa Covid, P20 billion for food logistics/food markets and other interventions and P15 billion for the cash for work program in the agriculture sector.

All these measures will be immediately transmitted to the plenary for another round of deliberations.
Majority Leader Romualdez said the lower chamber is targeting to approve these measures before the sine die adjournment on June 4.

Romualdez also said the leadership of the lower chamber will authorize, upon instruction of the Speaker, all standing and special committees to hold hearings during break.

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