Drilon hopes House squabble won’t delay passage of 2021 budget
Robie de Guzman • September 22, 2020 • 308
MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is hoping that the power struggle brewing in the House of Representatives will not delay the passage of the PP4.5-trillion national budget for 2021.
Drilon said the immediate passage of the next year’s budget is critical amid the coronavirus pandemic as it seeks to address unemployment and the imminent economic contraction that is projected to be 6% to 9% by the end of 2020.
“Certainly, a power struggle in the House of Representatives will affect our timelines and I hope not because we are still in the middle of a pandemic and we have about 10% unemployment,” he said in an interview on ANC on Monday.
Drilon noted that this is not the first time that a power play ensued at the lower House, recalling the congressmen’s bickering over infrastructure funds in 2018 that delayed the passage of the 2019 national budget for over four months.
He said the economic managers blamed the budget delay for the economic slowdown. The government was also forced to operate on a re-enacted budget.
The senator underscored that the government cannot afford another delay in the approval of the budget bill as it would affect the implementation of key development programs.
“The budget provides the spending authority for the government. If there is no spending authority because of the delay in the budget, what would happen is, there will be a re-enacted budget and a re-enacted budget would mean that new programs will not be funded or would have to wait until the budget is passed,” he said.
Earlier reports said that the bickering among congressmen is supposedly over infrastructure funds of legislative districts lodged under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
When asked whether the ongoing squabble is connected to the 2022 elections, Drilon responded with: “I would like to attribute good faith. But you cannot discount that this is part of the preparations for 2022. I have been in Congress long enough to know that if there is anything you should exercise extra vigilance, it is what is called the election year budget.”
He also said that the allocations under the DPWH budget should be “disaggregated in the spirit of transparency.”
The proposed P4.5-trillion national budget is currently being deliberated by both houses of Congress.
Over the weekend, House Deputy Speaker and presidential son, Davao Rep. Paolo Duterte threatened to declare the seats of House leaders amid the row fueled by the “disparity” in infrastructure budget allocations in their respective legislative districts.
MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government cannot grant absolute and blanket immunity to vaccine manufacturers, saying it is against the law and contrary to public policy.
Drilon issued the statement in support of National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19 and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., who earlier said that the government cannot agree to a full immunity for vaccine makers.
Galvez revealed late Wednesday that there are vaccine makers that demand full immunity but said the government cannot do so out of concern over malpractices and willful misconduct.
“Under the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act Congress passed last February 22, COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are immune from suits for claims arising out of the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, but not for willful misconduct or gross negligence,” Drilon said.
The senator cited Section 8 of the said measure which states that “notwithstanding any law to the contrary, public officials and employees, contractors, manufacturers, volunteers, and representatives of duly authorized private entities who are duly authorized to carry out and are actually carrying out the COVID-19 vaccination program shall be immune from suit and liability under Philippine laws with respect to all claims arising out, related to, or resulting from the administration or use of a COVID-19 vaccine under the COVID-19 vaccination program except arising from willful misconduct and gross negligence.”
“The government cannot extend a blanket immunity to vaccine manufacturers as it is against the law and contrary to public policy,” Drilon said.
The lawmaker, however, noted that any vaccine recipient can file claims for damages, based on the vaccine manufacturers’ liabilities arising from willful misconduct and gross negligence.
“It is part of their individual and private rights that cannot be set aside by the government,” he explained.
According to Drilon, gross negligence is defined by the Supreme Court as “negligence characterized by the want of even slight care, or by acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to the consequences, insofar as other persons may be affected.”
Willful misconduct, on the other hand, exists where the acts “were impelled by an intention to violate the law, or were in persistent disregard of one’s rights, as evidenced by a flagrantly or shamefully wrong or improper conduct.”
Drilon also said the establishment of an indemnity fund to compensate inoculated individuals who would experience severe adverse effects is also provided in the measure.
“The government set up the an indemnity fund to compensate any person inoculated through the vaccination program. The indemnity fund will take care of the costs for deaths, permanent disabilities and hospital confinements caused by vaccination”, Drilon said.
The bill likewise earmarked P500 million of the President’s P13 billion contingent fund for the COVID-19 National Vaccine Indemnity Fund. It will be administered by PhilHealth.
Drilon said the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Law will not only expedite the purchase and administration of vaccines but also sets aside money to secure the interest of the people against unforeseen effects thereof.
The proposed vaccine bill is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature.
MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to expand its satellite voters’ registration program and purchase more biometric scanners in order to facilitate a speedy voter’s registration.
In a statement, Drilon stressed that Congress has allotted sufficient funds to the Comelec under the 2020 and 2021 national budgets and that the poll body should use it to “buy more biometric gadgets, hire more consultants or job order employees and even rent out a bigger space or venue of voter registration.”
“Huwag na po nating tipirin ang budget. Kung kailangan dalhin sa bawat barangay ang voters’ registration, the Comelec must do it,” he said.
The senator said the lack of sufficient biometric scanner further slows down the registration process.
“Even if people go to the Comelec office to register, the Comelec has no capacity to accommodate a large number of applicants per day for a number of reasons, which include insufficient manpower and inadequate number of biometric scanners,” he said.
He also noted the lack of bigger Comelec offices in all districts to accommodate a large number of applicants.
Drilon believes that installing satellite voter registration sites is a solution within the law that the poll body should maximize and use efficiently to increase voters for the 2022 national and local elections.
The senator pointed out that due to COVID-19 health protocols, Comelec offices in the country have to limit the number of registrants they could accommodate in a day.
Citing Comelec data, Drilon said there are still three million new voters to be registered and seven million who need to renew their registration because they have not voted in the last two elections.
“There is no way the Comelec can reach its target number of voters for next year’s election at that rate of 50 to 70 registrants per day. We are running out of time. COMELEC should intensify its efforts to install more registration sites,” he said.
Drilon said the poll body can organize satellite registration in open courts, churches, schools with safety protocols followed to cover more applicants.
He also urged the commission to consider putting more than one satellite registration sites for cities with voting big populations.
“They can coordinate with the homeowner’s association to open their clubhouse or basketball courts for the registration. They can coordinate with the churches to open their doors. The National Secretariat of Social Action had offered to facilitate opening up of the Churches,” he added.
Comelec should hire more people to manage the satellite registration all over the country, he added.
“Let’s hire those IT people who lost their jobs. They know how to operate biometric machines. It can generate income for them for at least three to four months. They can be accompanied by a Comelec civil servant who can supervise the operation,” Drilon said.
Comelec earlier said it has extended the registration hours for new voters, opening its offices even on Saturdays to encourage more registrants.
The poll body said it is also eyeing the implementation of barangay satellite registration to accommodate more applications but added that it would depend on the contamination rate in the area.
MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday described the national government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan as “suntok sa buwan” after the Senate conducted a hearing to tackle the program.
“Parang suntok sa buwan ang vaccination program lalo na yung sinasabi nila na 148 million doses within the year. The arrival of the vaccines is not even definite,” Drilon said in a statement.
“How can they say that they will be able to purchase 148 million doses by the end of 2021 when up to now, we haven’t given any Emergency Use Authorization to any vaccine and we have not been able to raise, through loans, all the needed amount for the purchase of the vaccines?” he added.
Government officials involved in the COVID-19 response on Monday faced senators to explain the administration’s plans for the immunization of Filipinos against the novel coronavirus disease.
The government earlier said it is planning to inoculate 70 million Filipinos this year and that it is eyeing to rollout the vaccination plan in the coming months when the initial batch of at least 50,000 vaccines is delivered in February.
The Food and Drug Administration previously said it may issue an emergency use authorization for the application of Pfizer and AstraZeneca within January.
“I am not reassured in the slightest by what I heard. To be honest, I am more confused now. The government’s Covid-19 vaccination plan fails to provide the public the assurance they need from the government,” Drilon said.
“The plan is good on paper. The plan is filled with uncertainties and it leaves too much to chance,” he added.
Drilon said the government’s target of securing 148 million doses within the year is “simply difficult to achieve given what Sec. Carlito Galvez said that 80% of global supply has already been procured by rich countries.”
“If only the government was able to make advanced purchases last year, similar to other low-and-middle income countries such as Indonesia and Brazil, maybe we would have a better chance of securing these 148 million doses of vaccines this year,” he added.
The minority leader added the funding is not even guaranteed at this point as the government has not fully secured the necessary loans to fund the P70 billion in the unprogrammed fund for the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines.
The government has allotted P82.5 billion for the purchase of the vaccines but only P12.5 billion is in the programmed appropriation – P2.5 billion will come from the General Appropriations Act and another P10 billion under the extended Bayanihan 2.
“They have a better chance of achieving their targets if they lift the restriction that they set that prevents local chief executives and the private sector from buying vaccines directly from the manufacturers,” Drilon said.
“It will facilitate a speedy purchase of the much-needed vaccines. I believe there is a consensus among the senators insofar as lifting this restriction is concerned,” he added.
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