Romualdez, Velasco join call of Duterte Coalition for unified House of Representatives

Robie de Guzman   •   July 5, 2019   •   1648

(L-R) Martin Romualdez and Lord Allan Velasco

MANILA, Philippines – House speakership aspirants Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez and Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco on Friday welcomed the formation of the Duterte Coalition, and responded positively to its call for a united House of Representatives.

Romualdez said he joins the call of regional parties, Hugpong ng Pagbabago and Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod for House lawmakers to unite under the banner of the reform agenda set by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“I join hands with the Duterte Coalition in establishing a House of Representatives that truly reflects the will of our people,” Romualdez said in a statement.

The Leyte representative also said he agrees with the position of the Duterte Coalition for congressmen to be given the freedom to choose their leaders based on the dictates of their conscience and wishes of their constituents.

“Let every Speakership aspirant subject himself to the scrutiny of his peers, who shall be the ultimate judge on who shall be the primus inter pares. May the best man win,” he said.

Romualdez added that only a unified Congress, with a leader elected freely by its members, could help President Rodrigo Duterte realize his vision of alleviating poverty in the country through sustained economic growth.

“On these points, I commit myself to the ideals spelled out by the Duterte Coalition in its statement,” he said.

Velasco, in a separate statement, also urged his fellow lawmakers to join the Coalition and set aside their personal ambitions.  

“I welcome the formation of the Duterte Coalition whose intention is to unite the House of Representatives and push a strategic partnership between and among public servants who are deeply committed to institute reforms for better governance and development,” Velasco said.

Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte, earlier said he formed a nine-member coalition in a bid to unite the members of the House of Representatives amid factions and squabbles over the highest House position.

READ: Paolo Duterte forms coalition, hits Cabinet members meddling in House speakership race

He called on lawmakers, who believe in positive change, to join the coalition, and even extended a special call to be partner to Romualdez, Velasco and Alan Peter Cayetano.    

The presidential son, who earlier announced his possible bid for the speakership race, has been calling for unity in the House of Representatives.

In a separate statement, the PDP-Laban also welcomed Duterte’s effort to unite House members.

However, the ruling party reiterated it would continue to support Velasco in the race for speakership.

“For as long as we have a party member as a serious contender for House Speaker, we will continue to call for party discipline and unity in supporting our party nominee,” PDP-Laban president Senator Aquino ‘Koko’ Pimentel said.

Pimentel has been urging his party-mates to support Velasco after some PDP-Laban members said they will shift support if Duterte pursues his bid for speakership.

Aside from Duterte, Romualdez and Velasco, others gunning for the speakership post are Cayetano, Davao City Representative Isidro Ungab, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate and Pampanga Representative Aurelio Gonzales. (with details from Grace Casin)

House Speaker Velasco renews push for Bayanihan Law 3 amid COVID-19 surge

Robie de Guzman   •   March 25, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has renewed his call for the passage of Bayanihan to Arise as One Act, also known as Bayanihan 3, that will provide direct aid to Filipinos struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Velasco revived his proposal as more areas are placed under localized lockdowns and some businesses were again forced to shut down due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“There are a lot of Filipinos who are suffering financially and are in dire need of help now. A third economic stimulus package will provide a much-needed lifeline to individuals, families, and businesses severely affected by the pandemic,” Velasco said in a statement.

The lawmaker was referring to his own version of the Bayanihan 3 bill that proposes a P420-billion fund to stimulate the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

House Bill 8628 or the proposed Bayanihan 3 seeks to allocate the following funds:

  • P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households
  • P100 billion for capacity-building for impacted sectors
  • P52 billion for wage subsidies
  • P70 billion for capacity-building for agricultural producers
  • P30 billion for internet allowances to students and teachers
  • P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers
  • P25 billion for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines
  • P5 billion for the rehabilitation of areas impacted by recent floods and typhoons

Velasco filed the measure in February after the passage of the bill extending the validity of Bayanihan 2, and upon seeing further need to allocate additional funds to help the nation cope with the pandemic.

To date, 224 members from the supermajority, minority, and independent blocs in the House of Representatives have signed either as principal authors or co-authors of the measure.

Lawmakers said reports that the Philippine economy contracted 9.5 percent in 2020—the worst performance in the country’s post-war history—underscore the importance and urgency of passing Bayanihan 3.

The country’s economic managers had reportedly said they were not sure if the third stimulus package would still be necessary if quarantine restrictions were eased further and the economy moves faster.

However, Velasco said that during a recent virtual meeting, he got an assurance from Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that efforts are being made to identify funding sources for the Bayanihan 3.

“It’s a matter of finding revenues to be able to fund those programs. Secretary Dominguez did not actually shoot down Bayanihan 3,” Velasco said.

“Definitely, he (Dominguez) really wants to help the Filipino people. Ang sinabi lang niya e give him time to look for the funding,” he added.

The measure also seeks to provide each household member P1,000 regardless of their economic status. On top of this, a P1,000 allowance will be provided to each student and teacher and P8,000 for every displaced worker.

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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