COVID-19 vaccination hearing on Jan. 11 will not include the PSG — Sotto

Marje Pelayo   •   January 5, 2021   •   212

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate hearing on the government’s vaccination plan will push through on Monday (January 11) but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the probe will not include members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Despite this, several senators maintained that it is the responsibility and mandate of Congress to conduct a probe in aid of legislation that will benefit the people.

Sotto, who heads the Senate Committee of the Whole, said the probe will focus on the government’s P72.5 billion budget for the vaccination plan against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and not anymore on the PSG’s use of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines.

“He is misinformed. I’m the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole as Senate President. The topic of my hearing is the roadmap for the P72.5 B for vaccines. Who in heaven’s name told him I’m calling for PSG? I think the President is being misled,” Sotto said in a statement.

Sotto believes the President was misinformed because the PSG was not really part of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he acknowledges the President’s executive privilege to bar the PSG from attending the probe.

“To investigate in aid of legislation is also a valid exercise of legislative power.  There is no preventing Congress from eliciting information in aid of legislation from other resource persons. Congress can exact information on matters that can help it craft better legislation,” he said.

He noted, however, that the Chief Executive should not stop Congress from doing its mandate.

“The Senate should continue with the hearing, especially in the light of the revelation that 100,000 POGO workers were inoculated in the country. That is illegal. In aid of legislation, the Senate must elicit information from other sources on how to strengthen the FDA and the Bureau of Customs to prevent similar episodes in the future,” Drilon said.

For his part, Senator Richard Gordon said it was wrong of the President to warn Congress considering they are a co-equal branch of government.

He added that though he recognizes PSG’s loyalty to him, still no one is above the law.

“Well, that’s unfortunate because I think he’s wrong. The president has got to respect the separation of powers clause,” Gordon said.

“To shackle the Senate or the Congress into not doing what it is supposed to do is I think a wrong thing to do for the president,” he added.

Amid the issue, Gordon still wants to know who supplied that vaccine administered to the PSG and how the group received the unauthorized vaccines.

He said the senators will sit on a caucus to discuss if they will raise the matter in the investigation.

“Bakit nila tinatago? Is somebody laying the predicate here for the Chinese medicine to be pushed? Because lumabas na ngayon 300-200 Chinese na ang inoculate,” Gordon said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, stressed that it is the Senate’s responsibility to scrutinize and put in order any negligence on the part of the Executive branch.

“Kung hindi pa handa at nagkakanya kanya at iba iba ang direksyon ng mga ahensya ng Executive branch, responsibilidad at tungkulin ng Senado magsilbing check and balance at busisiin ito at subukan ilagay sa ayos ang anumang kakulangan o kapabayaan na nagaganap sa kilos ng mga kinaukulan,” Pangilinan said.

This issue is not a matter to be ignored, according to Senator Risa Hontiveros particularly the report that some POGO workers were also inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines without the proper authorization.

“Hindi pwedeng ipagsawalang kibo ng pamahalaan ang napabalitang paggamit ng 100,000 POGO workers ng smuggled at unauthorized vaccine,” the opposition senator said.

“Bakit ba ang nangunguna pa yatang kunsintidor ng kontrabando ay ang sarili pa nating gobyerno?” she added.

To date, Sotto’s committee has yet to finalize the list of resource persons to be invited to the probe on Monday. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Senate probes distance learning quality, deferment of proposed resumption of in-person classes

Robie de Guzman   •   February 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – A Senate panel will conduct an inquiry on Wednesday on the quality of distance learning, other psycho-social concerns, and the implications of postponing the resumption of face-to face classes amid the threat of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, said that during the hearing, he will urge the Department of Education (DepEd) to use all available tools and resources to avert a looming ‘learning crisis’ as part of its next steps in mitigating the “pernicious effects” of distance learning.

Gatchalian earlier expressed fears that a huge chunk of more than 25 million learners in the basic education sector might end up “unprepared” for their next level of schooling.

While DepEd has exhausted all possible steps to provide for continued education amid the pandemic, Gatchalian stressed that several challenges still hound the rollout of distance learning, including the inadequacy of connectivity, lack of enough guidance from teachers, and the quality and effectiveness of self-learning modules, among others.

“Dahil ipagpapaliban muna nating muli ang pagkakaroon ng face-to-face classes, mahalagang magkaroon tayo ng kaliwanagan sa kung ano ba ang magiging pangmatagalang epekto nito sa ating mga mag-aaral, lalo na’t hinaharap nila ang maraming mga hamong may kinalaman sa epektibong pagpapatupad ng distance learning,” Gatchalian said in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.

“Ang ating layunin sa pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon sa gitna ng pandemya ay masigurong natututo ang ating mga mag-aaral at maging handa sila para sa susunod na antas ng kanilang pag-aaral,” he added.

Duterte earlier thumbed down fresh proposals to resume face-to-face classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque relayed the president’s decision not to allow any in-person classes until the vaccination program has been rolled out in the country.

Roque, however, said that face-to-face classes may be considered in August this year after the launch of the immunization drive.

A pilot test of limited face-to-face classes was supposed to be held by the government last January but was ordered suspended by Duterte due to increasing COVID-19 cases.

Senate approves proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act

Marje Pelayo   •   February 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate of the Philippines approved, on third reading, the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act that seeks to expedite the process of vaccine procurement in the country.

Twenty two (22) senators voted in favor of the measure.

Under Senate Bill 2057, local government units (LGUs) may procure COVID-19 vaccines for 75% of their target population.

Also, the LGUs will be allowed to make advance payments to the vaccine manufacturer.

The bill also provides a COVID-19 national vaccine indemnity fund or payment for damages should the vaccinee experienced serious side effects.

The House of Representatives on Monday (February 22) approved its own version of the bill after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the proposed measure as urgent.

Senate approves Labor Education Act on third and final reading

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate has approved the Labor Education Act on the third and final reading.

Senate Bill No. 1513 or the Labor Education Act seeks to mandate all public and private higher education institutions (HEIs) to integrate labor education as part of an elective course.

Under the bill, HEIs and tech-voc training institutes shall hold a Labor Empowerment and Career Guidance conference which graduating students shall attend.

Senator Joel Villanueva, the principal sponsor of the Senate Bill, said around 700,000 students graduate from HEIs every year.

However, these students have little knowledge of their labor rights and access to legal aid or assistance. This makes them vulnerable to labor exploitation, according to the Senator.

“At present, the regions that have the highest number of students enrolled in higher education institutions are also the regions where establishments record dismal compliance to labor laws. Unfortunately, there is no clear core subject in the higher, technical, and vocational education sectors where labor education is comprehensively covered,” he said.

Villanueva also noted the enactment of the bill would ensure that every Filipino worker would be aware of his/her rights which include labor issues such as unemployment and underemployment, problems concerning fair wages, job security, safe workplaces, social protection, and unfair labor practices. -AAC

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