Senate committee approves bill giving Duterte authority to defer SSS hike

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 26, 2021   •   312

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises on Tuesday (January 26) approved a Senate bill that will grant President Rodrigo Duterte the authority to defer or suspend the Social Security System (SSS) contribution rate hike.

Under Senate Bill 1970, the Chief Executive can suspend the implementation of the SSS contribution hike during a national emergency or state of calamity for six months.

While the SSS administration acknowledges the bill, it reiterated the need to implement the contribution hike this year.

SSS President and CEO Andrea Ignacio said delaying the implementation might have a negative effect on the government’s financial situation.

“Delaying this implementation of any reform will worsen an already dire financial institution. The new contribution schedule in the SSS Charter is a long overdue reform. SSS has increased its pension benefit 25 times while it adjusted contribution rate only 8 times to date,” he said.

He added that SSS would not have enough budget to pay their pensioners for the next 30 to 40 years. However, Ignacio said they will not force unemployed individuals to pay.

“We acknowledge that the contribution hike will add a little burden to our employers and workers but, at the same time, the fact is we are asking for this hike only to those who are able to do so. The employers who are operating and the workers that still have their jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva and committee chairperson Senator Richard Gordon said the contribution hike will further burden the citizens, especially during the pandemic.

Iyong may trabaho at may negosyo, sa halip na hindi na natin sila i-burden out, bibigyan pa natin sila ng additional burden na isipin (Those with jobs and business, instead of easing their burden, we are giving them an additional burden they have to think about), Villanueva said.

Lalala ang situation, baka ang mangyari masyadong hirap na. Talagang dapat tingnan natin kung anong gagawin natin to alleviate their pain (The situation might worsen. We should look for ways on how to alleviate their pain),” said Gordon.

Under Republic Act 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2018 the contribution hike for this year will increase by 13% and 15% by 2025. -AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Duterte to listen to public’s sentiment on VFA issue

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 26, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is open to listening to the public about their sentiments on the issue regarding the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US).

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said those who wish to voice out their opinions on whether the VFA should be abolished or not can send messages through the government hotline 8888.

Kung nais ninyong marinig ang inyong boses tungkol dito, huwag po kayong mag-atubili, kayo po ay magpadala ng e-mail o mensahe o kung anuman doon sa mga linya ng ating mga ahensiya sa gobyerno para makarating po kay Presidente (If you want your voices to be heard, do not hesitate and send an email or message through government agency hotlines for it to reach the President), he said.

Duterte, during his public address on Wednesday (February 24), said he is still undecided on what to do. He previously demanded the US to pay if it wants the VFA to continue.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the military will support the decision of the President but also said the Philippines should be able to defend itself without any assistance. -AAC (with reports from Rosalie Coz)

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.

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