Senate to look into government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan

Robie de Guzman   •   December 15, 2020   •   316

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Tuesday said it has adopted a resolution that seeks to conduct an inquiry into the government’s novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination plan.

The Senate Resolution 594 called for the constitution of the Senate Committee of the Whole to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the national COVID-19 vaccination program with the end in view of determining the measures necessary to fully prepare for its nationwide implementation.

The resolution, authored by Senator Francis Pangilinan, was adopted during a Senate hybrid plenary session on Monday.

Pangilinan said he is asking for the Committee of the Whole hearing on the subject “considering that it covers a complex number of various issues such as funding, country-to-country negotiations that may involve matters affecting diplomatic relations, logistical support, private sector mobilization, including digital infrastructure and sophisticated transport systems, and public health concerns, among others.”

The resolution noted that there remain a number of considerations that need to be addressed in order to ensure the complete preparedness to implement the national COVID-19 vaccination program.

These include the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines to be selected, logistical and supply chain requirements, training of vaccinators, information dissemination to foster vaccine confidence, and additional budget, among others.

“Do we have the logistical capacity to ensure effective delivery of the vaccines to the grassroots? What is the gameplan?” Pangilinan said.

“The country needs clear action steps and deliverables in a vaccination program that our citizens can trust and believe in. It is incumbent upon government to provide this,” he added.

The senator also cited in the resolution the total budget for the COVID-19 vaccination program which currently stands at P82.5 billion.

The budget allocated P2.5 billion under the programmed funds of the Department of Health for 2021, and P70 billion under the 2021 unprogrammed funds, while the remaining P10 billion is allocated under Republic Act No. 11494 or the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.”

It is expected that additional funds would be required for other logistical requirements, including PPE and other medical supplies, as well as transportation and storage facilities for the vaccines, Pangilinan said.

Furthermore, it stated that the World Health Organization estimates that at least 60 to 70 percent of a country’s population need to acquire immunity to COVID-19 to break the chain of transmission and achieve herd immunity. This means at least 65 million Filipinos, or 60 percent of the country’s current population, need to be vaccinated.

The Senate is eyeing to initially start the hearing on December 21 or December 28 to discuss the result of the government’s vaccine summit to be held on December 16.

The hearing will then resume in January to give concerned government agencies ample time to finalize the immunization program.

The Philippine government earlier said it is looking to roll out its COVID-19 immunization program by 2021 or 2022, and to administer it to at least 70 million Filipinos within three to five years.

Malacañang said that frontline health workers will be the first priority in the vaccine distribution followed by senior citizens, poor Filipinos and uniformed personnel.

Areas with high cases of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) such as Metro Manila, Davao, and Cebu will be prioritized in the distribution of the vaccines once it becomes available. RRD (with details from Correspondent 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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