Suspension of VFA abrogation won’t affect senators’ SC petition, Drilon says

Robie de Guzman   •   June 3, 2020   •   203

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday lauded the decision of the Philippine government to suspend the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

“This sudden policy change is a welcome development. The unhampered implementation of the VFA will serve the interest of our country, particularly with regard to the preservation of our rights over parts of the West Philippine Sea,” Drilon said in a statement.

He said the “abrupt” abrogation of the VFA as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte last February – which was done amid the increasing aggressiveness and bullying of China – was “disadvantageous” to the country.

“What the country truly needs is a stable foreign policy that promotes our interest,” he added.

Drilon, however, said this development will not affect the Senate’s petition, urging the Supreme Court to rule on the upper chamber’s role in the withdrawal of international treaties.

“This turnaround does not affect the case that we filed before the Supreme Court. The petition we filed is for declaratory relief and mandamus where we asked the Supreme Court to uphold the power of the Senate over treaty termination,” he said,

“The fact that the VFA is reinstated will not render our case moot and academic. The case stands,” he added.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., said the Philippine government has informed the US government of its intent to suspend for six months the termination of the military accord “upon the instruction of the president” and “in light of political and other developments in the region.”

Drilon opposes Philhealth bid to delay implementation of Universal Health Care Law

Robie de Guzman   •   June 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has opposed the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (Philhealth) appeal to postpone the full implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law even amid the slump in collections this year due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Drilon said the UHC law is “critical” in the fight against COVID-19, and delaying its implementation is wrong.

“To halt the implementation of a law that would promote access to affordable care, strengthen our primary health care and make our people healthy to fight the virus is a step in the wrong direction,” he said.

“If COVID-19 taught us one thing, it is that we need to keep people healthy and we have to prepare for the next pandemic. UHC is the key,” he added.

While Drilon recognized the need to address Philihealth’s precarious position for it to be able to sustain its funding, he said it should not be at the expense of the people who are relying on the UHC for their health needs.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the weaknesses and inequity in the current healthcare system, which the law seeks to address.

The Senate Minority Leader also expressed his concern that postponing the full implementation of the UHC could “discourage poor people from seeking hospital treatments or primary health care even if they experience COVID-19 symptoms.”

Drilon said the implementation of UHC is sourced from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, premium contribution of members, annual appropriation of DOH under the General Appropriations Act, and National Government subsidy to Philhealth.

Drilon said he has already called on the Department of Budget and Management to increase funding for the health sector in the National Expenditure Program for 2021.

“If we learned anything about the onset of the pandemic, it is that the health sector must get a big part of the budgetary pie,” he said.

The health of the people is the State’s responsibility,” he added.

Drilon, Lacson urge DOH to drop proposed P11.7-B fund for contact tracing, adopt other effective solutions

Robie de Guzman   •   June 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called on the Department of Health (DOH) to be resourceful in its contact tracing and to drop its proposed P11.7 billion funding for the hiring of 130,000 individuals for the project.

In a statement on Tuesday, Drilon said government agencies should exercise prudent judgment in the use of public funds in consideration of the country’s growing budget deficit due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

“Mag-ingat po tayo sa paggasta ng pera ng taumbayan lalo sa panahon ng krisis,” Drilon said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Given the increasing budget deficit, which is projected to reach P1.56 trillion or 8.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product this year, this P11.7 billion should better be put to good use,” he added.

Drilon also backed Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s call to the DOH to divert the fund for contact tracing to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

He said the health agency should stop insisting on its plan when it can find other ways “to do contact tracing without hurting the government coffers.”

The senator reiterated his proposal for the DOH to tap around 400,000 barangay health workers and parent-leaders from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to carry out contact tracing to save the government huge amount of money.

“Since they are already organized, they can be quickly mobilized as contact tracers,” he said.

“Our objective to prevent the virus from spreading is based on our ability to efficiently identify the infected and notify those he or she has made contact with. Hence, contact tracing is a must and should never be neglected,” he added.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson urged the DOH to adopt cheap, yet effective contact tracing solutions of local government units (LGU).

He cited for example the LGU of Carmona, Cavite which developed an app that can track users’ location history using a mobile phone’s GPS. It also allows uses to log interactions with other people and do self-assessment if they experience symptoms.

“In just a few days of implementation, the local government has already signed up 42,000 out of the municipality’s 97,557 residents,” Lacson said.

“For those without smartphones, the local government’s barangay and police personnel can input the information for them,” he added.

The senator also cited Baguio City’s contact tracing scheme, which relies on the geographical information system platform to plot the areas where possible COVID-19 carriers live

“With these technologies, we can potentially save P11.7 billion being asked by the Department of Health for contact tracers. I share Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s sentiment that there are more practical uses for the amount,” he said, noting that the budget could be used for livelihood programs for those severely affected by community quarantine triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.

The DOH earlier said it is planning to hire more than 95,000 contact tracers to meet the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of one tracer in every 800 people.

The proposed fund will be used to hire these contact tracers for three months.

US welcomes PH decision to suspend termination of Visiting Forces Agreement

Marje Pelayo   •   June 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The United States on Tuesday (June 2) welcomed the decision of the Philippines to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The Department of Foreign Affairs on June 1 informed the US Embassy that the Philippine government is suspending the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement for at least six months.

With this, the US hopes for the two nations’ continued security and defense cooperation in the future.

“Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teddy Locsin earlier tweeted a copy of the diplomatic note he sent to the US Embassy regarding the decision and noted that the suspension of the scrapping of the military accord was “upon the President’s instruction.”

On February 11, Locsin sent the formal notice of termination of VFA to the US Embassy, from which began the 180-day countdown to the official end of the VFA.

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