Drilon wants Senate to summon PSG chief over COVID-19 vaccination

Robie de Guzman   •   January 1, 2021   •   892

MANILA, Philippines – The chief of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) must be summoned to the Senate’s inquiry into the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan to explain the controversial advanced vaccination of his unit, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

“The PSG Commander must be called and must appear in the investigation of the Committee of the Whole to shed light on this issue,” Drilon said in a statement Thursday.

“The most important ‘who’ and ‘how’ of the story remains a mystery. The PSG commander is deliberately withholding the basic questions of who and how from the public,” he added.

PSG commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante earlier admitted that some of the presidential guards “independently” inoculated themselves with an unregistered vaccine without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The PSG chief took full responsibility for the administration of the unregistered vaccine as he stressed that it was done without the knowledge of President Rodrigo Duterte or any other agency.

Drilon said Durante must be made to explain on how they obtained the vaccine and where it came from.

“All they give to the public are alibis, excuses and lies. There is more to it that will be revealed to the committee once Brig. Gen. Durante appears in our hearing. The Senate must summon the PSG commander,” he said.

“Who else was involved? How did unregistered Covid-19 vaccines enter the country? Who imported it from China?” he added.

Durante has yet to issue a statement in response to Drilon’s remarks.

The Senate Committee of the Whole is set to conduct an inquiry into the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the country on January 11. RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senators slam lack of funding for health worker benefits in 2022 national budget

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 9, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—Several senators are questioning the lack of funding for healthcare worker benefits in the 2022 national budget.

Senator Franklin Drilon, during the briefing of the Development Budget Coordination Committee on Thursday (September 9), urged concerned agencies to “fix budget priorities” and lamented that the budget for next year is not in line with the reality being faced by the country.

The senator questioned why there is no allotted budget for the Special Risk Allowance (SRA) and hazard pay for healthcare workers while the National Task Force to End Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has a P28 billion budget. He also questioned why the P45 billion budget for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots is placed under unprogrammed funds.

“We see that the public health is not given priority that it deserves,” he said. “Are we saying that insurgency has become a bigger, more dangerous threat than COVID-19 and its fast mutating variants?”

Marami pong pagkukunan ng budget itong kampanya laban sa insurgency. Hindi po kailangang maghiwalay pa tayo ng 28 billlion (We can get budget for the campaign against insurgency, there is no need to allot P28 billion for it) in the face of all these difficulties that we are facing, and in the face of the fact that our health personnel are not being given special risk allowance,” he added.

Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan and Senator Risa Hontiveros believe the budget should be fixed in order to address the threat of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

Hontiveros likewise lamented that there is no allotted budget for healthcare workers.

Sa kabila ng kali-kaliwang panawagan at panaghoy ng ating healthcare workers na maibigay na ang kanilang SRA, gaano kagarapal na sa budget sa susunod na taon ay ni singkong duling, walang inilaan para sa kanilang SRA, hazard pay, allowance sa meals, accommodations at transportation? Bigyan naman natin ng dignidad ang ating medical frontliners (Amid the calls and cries our healthcare workers for their SRA, its shameless how next year’s budget has no allotment for their SRA, hazard pay, meal allowance, accommodation, and transportation. Let us at least give our medical frontliners some dignity),” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Senator Joel Villanueva said that the Executive branch should submit an errata to provide benefits for healthcare workers.

He added that a P23 billion budget is needed to double the SRA and active hazard duty pay of around 120,000 healthcare workers in private and public hospitals.

Kung seryoso po ang ating gobyerno sa pagbibigay ng SRA at AHDP para sa ating mga healthcare workers, ang gagawin lang naman ng DBM at DOH ay magpadala ng budget errata sa Senado at sa House of Representatives, (If our government is serious in providing SRA and AHDP to our healthcare workers, the Department of Budget and Management and Department of Health can simply send a budget errata to the Senate and House of Representatives),” he said.

Meanwhile, Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez said it was him who proposed to include COVID-19 booster shots in the budget, however, experts panels and health authorities said the country still does not need booster shots for COVID-19.

“I had a big argument with them and in fact the result is that it is actually the budget. Had we not argued with that, it would not even be in the budget because they said it’s not yet proven, it’s not yet approved, etc. I said I don’t care I said I just want to make sure that we have an item in the budget that we can activate if and when the health authorities decide that it is required,” he said.

The DBM reiterated that there is a need to allot budget for NTF-ELCAC.

“It will actually provide development funds for barangays which have been recently freed of insurgency or leftist elements. If government will not intervene, then who will? That’s the reason why we also assert that the NTF-ELCAC is important. However we defer to the wisdom of Senate, House if they find that these reasons are not sufficient,” according to DBM Officer-in-Charge Usec. Tina Marie Rose Canda.

The Malacañang has yet to provide a response to the senators’ concerns. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Senate seeks probe on alleged DOH mismanagement of P67-B COVID-19 fund

Aileen Cerrudo   •   August 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate wants to look into the alleged mismanagement of funds of the Department of Health (DOH) allotted for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response.

After the recent assessment of the Commission on Audit (COA), senators are seeking to investigate the deficiencies on the DOH’s P67.32 billion COVID-19 budget.

COA attributed the said deficiencies to the health department’s non-compliance with pertinent laws and regulations, including the use of funds not for the intended purpose.

Senator Grace Poe said this proves to be counter-beneficial to the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the disease at a crucial time.

“These funds were provided to strengthen the agency’s health resources in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the implementation deficiencies denied our countrymen their right to health at a time when it is most needed,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Senate should “particularly look into the P3.97 billion worth of contracts and projects with procedural deficiencies in the procurement process and lacking documentation.”

“It is imperative that we examine closely the DOH’s use of billions of pesos in COVID-19 response funds given the findings of the COA and the corruption allegations that hounded the agency’s procurement of various COVID-19 equipment and supplies,” Drilon said.

Drilon said DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III’s ineptitude is sabotaging the government’s response to the pandemic.

“While we see a shortage of beds, PPEs, ventilators, oxygen tanks, the DOH incurred P24.64 billion in unobligated funds that could have augmented our medical resources and paid on time the risk allowance of our medical frontliners,” Drilon said.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros said the country needs commitment and competence from the DOH leadership to ensure every peso budgeted and allocated would save lives.

“Given the COA findings, the DOH seems to be depriving thousands of Filipinos of healthcare services in the face of national emergency and it is nothing short of criminal,” she said. AAC

DILG to simplify, fast track registration for mass inoculation efforts in June

Marje Pelayo   •   May 27, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will issue a memorandum circular to fast track the conduct of mass inoculation once the COVID-19 vaccine supplies arrive in June.

According to DILG Secretary Eduardo Año, the agency will require local government units (LGUs) to speed up the preparation of the masterlists of COVID vaccine recipients.

Año stressed that they want the registration process to be simpler with only vital information required in the form.

“The simpler the better. Mahirap iyong marami pang masyadong itinatanong at natatakot ang ating mamamayan sa pagrerehistro,” the official said.

In consideration to those who cannot access the registration online, Año said they are planning to utilize all platforms not only through social media but even apply the traditional method to make sure that the entire population will get vaccinated.

“Pagsasabayin natin ang traditional at social media based platforms sa pagrerehistro. Ang ating mga senior, mga mahihirap na kababayan ang iba dyan walang smartphone, walang WiFi, walang computer. Kaya gusto natin ay kasama din ang tradisyunal na pamamaraan,” the DILG Secretary noted.

To reach those in the remote areas and those without access to the internet, the DILG will send personnel to go from house to house and will assign specific teams to visit and assist the indigent population.

Also, an aggressive information campaign will be launched to boost vaccine confidence and LGUs will be required to provide free service vehicles that would ferry vaccine recipients to the vaccination sites.

Año encourages LGUs to be in partnership with the private sector, non-government and religious organizations as well as homeowners to allow their establishments to become vaccination sites to fast track the government’s vaccination program.

To date, Año said all 42,000 barangay health centers are now gearing up for the mass vaccination and a total of 25,994 LGUs have already submitted their respective vaccination plans.

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