Cayetano steps down as House Speaker

Robie de Guzman   •   October 13, 2020   •   431

MANILA, Philippines ­– Taguig-Pateros Representative Alan Peter Cayetano has tendered his irrevocable resignation as speaker of the House of Representatives following the election of Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco.

As House lawmakers ratified Velasco’s election to the top post, Cayetano said he is stepping down from the post to avoid any more division and squabble among legislators.

“Verbally, I am tendering my irrevocable resignation as the speaker of the House of the Republic of the Philippines,” Cayetano said on Facebook live.

“At 3 p.m., elect your new speaker and pass the budget… Walang maneuvers at political tactics na mangyayari diyan,” he added.

Cayetano’s move follows President Rodrigo Duterte’s reminder to lawmakers to resolve the speakership issue, and to pass the 2021 national budget on time.

Velasco’s assumption of the chamber’s top post ended weeks of leadership tug-of-war with Cayetano, and enforced the term-sharing agreement between the two rivals that was brokered by the president in 2019.

Under the term-sharing deal, Cayetano would serve as House Speaker for the first 15 months or until October 2020 while Velasco will take over the position for the remaining 21 months of the term.

Cayetano claimed he decided to give way to Velasco to ensure the passage of the P4.5-trillion General Appropriations Bill.

He said that based on his meetings with Duterte, he understood that he was going to turn over the top post once the budget bill has been approved.

“So Mr. President if I made a mistake, mali ang reading ko, misunderstood ko na gusto mong ituloy at tapusin ko ang budget, ako’y humihingi ng paumanhin. Hindi ko intensyon, never na hindi ka sundin,” he said.

Cayetano also urged Velasco to keep his word to retain the appointed House deputy speakers and committee chairpersons. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Vincent Arboleda)

House begins plenary debates on proposed economic charter changes

Robie de Guzman   •   February 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives on Monday started its plenary deliberations on proposals seeking to amend the “restrictive” economic provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., the chairperson of House committee on constitutional amendments, sponsored Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 in the plenary, signifying the start of the entire chamber’s discussion on the proposed changes in the economic provisions of the country’s charter.

In his sponsorship speech, Garbin stressed that passing the resolution will give the government the freedom to adopt measures that will pave the way for economic development.

“It is wise for Congress to amend the Constitution by adding the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ in order to give the government enough flexibility to consider different circumstances prevailing at different stages our road to economic development before formulating policies that should be time-bound,” he said.

Garbin emphasized that economic conditions “are never static, so must the fundamental law be freed from the constraint of rigidity. While it is reduced to writing, it should not be devoid of the element of flexibility.”

The House panel earlier approved RBH No. 2 which aims to amend existing economic provisions in the Philippine charter to open up the country to foreign investors in a bid to help the pandemic-battered economy to recover.

Garbin noted observations that the Constitution’s restrictive economic provisions “have proven to be a bane, rather than a boon for the country, for they have restricted or discouraged the flow of foreign direct investments.”

“While these provisions may be very well-meaning and appear to favor the interests of Filipinos, over the long haul, the country and the common good of all Filipinos suffer,” he added.

The lawmaker also said that the Philippines should not be afraid to compete in today’s global economy as he stressed on the need to amend or eliminate overly protective provisions to attract more foreign investments.

The legislator was referring to provisions of the Constitution that limit foreign ownership in business enterprises operating in the country, including public utilities.

While the solon reminded his fellow lawmakers that all Filipinos are duty-bound to respect and obey the Constitution, “the obligation to respect, obey and to dutifully protect does not equate to permanence.”

“It does not mean that the tenets therein would no longer be changed if change is necessary and if change is desired by the people.”

Garbin earlier said that the House plans to approve the resolution on third and final reading before Congress goes on recess on March 27.

House to pass bill on vaccine indemnity fund on Feb. 22 – Velasco

Robie de Guzman   •   February 19, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives is set to approve on Monday, February 22, a bill seeking to establish an indemnification fund and expedite the procurement of vaccines against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said the lower chamber is expected to pass House Bill No. 8648 on second and third readings after the measure was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“As soon as we were apprised that the indemnification fund is a requirement of the vaccine manufacturers, we wasted no time in filing House Bill 8648, which would allow emergency procurement of vaccines and provide the required indemnification fund,” Velasco said in a statement.

House Bill 8648 proposes to provide exemptions to compliance by local government units with the procurement requirements under Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act in the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines and other much-needed supplies during the pandemic.

The bill pushes for the vaccines to be exempted from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, and other fees, provided that the shots to be acquired by LGUs “shall only be used for their residents and constituents, and not for commercial distribution.”

The bill is now up for second reading after it was approved by the Committee on Appropriations and sponsored in plenary.

Aside from the vaccine indemnification bill, Velasco said the House is also prepared to pass the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act (Bayanihan 3), which proposes a P420-billion fund for the implementation of much-needed COVID-19 response and recovery interventions.

The proposal also includes a P25-billion budget for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines.

The House speaker said the lower chamber has always been supportive of the national government’s efforts to fight COVID-19 noting the passage of the 2021 national budget, which includes a P72.5 billion allocation for vaccine procurement, as well as the Bayanihan 1 and 2.

“Rest assured that the House will continue to pass legislation that would help sustain the national government’s efforts in addressing the pandemic, so we can all return to normal at the soonest possible time,” he said.

Velasco urges gov’t to create unified contact tracing protocol

Robie de Guzman   •   February 9, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has called on the government’s task force on COVID-19 response to establish a unified contact tracing protocol to ensure a more effective health emergency data monitoring system in the country.

Velasco said he has filed House Resolution No. 1536 last week, urging the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to strengthen contact tracing efforts by using the most effective and safest system to further boost its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Contact Tracing is a public health strategy to dramatically decrease the impact of an epidemic or pandemic that has been used for years to combat communicable diseases such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014, and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003,” Velasco said in a statement.

“Contact Tracing is the process of finding out who has recently been in close contact with a person infected with a virus, such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and reaching out to those people to let them know they may have been exposed and guide them on what to do next, which may include self-isolating to prevent further spread of the virus,” he added.

Velasco noted that the Philippines is only able to identify at least seven contacts per confirmed COVID-19 case when the ideal contact tracing ratio should be 1:37 for urban areas, and 1:30 for rural communities.

He said the proposed unified national contact tracing protocol should include the designation of a government agency or body as the centralized repository of information to facilitate a faster health emergency response system.

The protocol should also include a secure, encrypted transmission of data, a unified data procedure for solution providers; compliance with Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 in the handling of data; and the provision of real-time data access to accredited contact tracing app providers.

During the onset of the pandemic, Velasco said local government units (LGUs) had a hard time initiating contact tracing in their respective localities because the COVID-19 database lack fundamental data such as phone number and full address.

“As a result, numerous third parties offered disparate free contact tracing solutions, usually through mobile apps that require people to own smart phones, while some establishments continued to offer manual registration to non-smart phone users,” he added.

In November last year, IATF Resolution No. 85 prescribed the use of StaySafe.PH platform as the official COVID-19 management and monitoring app for government offices and LGUs.

However, some sectors, including tourism industry participants, prefer SafePass over StaySafe.PH.

According to Velasco, the disparate apps and non-centralized data repository led to redundant products, cost duplication, and less effective solutions often due to limited data access.

He said the data systems should include automated reports to aid in monitoring progress and outcomes of case investigation and contact tracing.

“It is observed that there is poor interconnection and data sharing between solution providers and the central data base maintained by the Department of Health,” Velasco pointed out.

Velasco likewise noted that data sharing agreements between local and national jurisdictions need to be established or augmented to ensure timely and accurate data collection and sharing.

“Some sectors have also expressed concern on unknown and unverified data privacy practices of various solution providers, including non-compliance with the data privacy law,” he pointed out.

Velasco stressed there is a need for the modification of existing systems and the development of new user-friendly data interfaces to manage multiple data streams with seamless interoperability.

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