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Bracing for the survival of our nation

This time, as we transition into the “new normal,” we are all going to be in the frontlines to ward off the enemy.

Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go

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On Thursday, 28 May, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the proposal of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to impose general community quarantine (GCQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) — now seen as a “high-to-moderate-risk area” — starting today, 1 June. Other than NCR, other areas that will be on GCQ are Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Central Visayas, Pangasinan, Albay, Davao City and Zamboanga City. Meanwhile, the rest of the country will be under modified GCQ.

What this means is that, after being under the stringent enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) measure for three months due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, easing of some restrictions will now be made, granting more Filipinos further mobility and reopening businesses throughout the country, albeit gradually.

Our quarantine measures have effectively slowed the spread of COVID-19. In fact, the ECQ, coupled with other government interventions, has indeed stalled the spread of COVID-19, based on “the best available data.” This is according to a five-page policy note by the University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team and the UP Resilience Institute.

Truth be told, the easing of some restrictions has not been an easy decision for President Duterte and the whole of government to make. Cognizant of the lingering threat of COVID-19, we had to balance the well-being of every Filipino and well-being of our economy. The economy is the bloodline of our nation. Without a functioning one, many Filipinos will also suffer due to the lack of income opportunities. Without an economy, the government cannot also provide the needs of its people.

But let me be clear: the easing of some restrictions is not without corresponding responsibilities for all of us. As the government grants Filipinos further mobility in these times of pandemic, it also expects its citizens to do their social responsibility to their fellow Filipinos. Safety protocols and physical distancing measures will continue to be implemented to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks and waves. Public transportation will still be limited. The government also expects you to follow preventive personal measures like the wearing of masks and the washing of hands not just to protect yourselves but other people as well.

The government has entrusted you with greater responsibility in this war against COVID-19. We only expect you to do your part even as we fulfill ours. And as your Kuya Bong Go, I will continue to guide and protect you in our way to the “new normal.”

As more overseas Filipino workers return home amid the pandemic, I have urged the Department of Labor and Employment to immediately implement its action plan to bring home to their respective hometowns thousands of OFW (overseas Filipino workers) who have been stranded in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila.

I have also called on the different government agencies to assist all locally stranded individuals in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, so that they can safely return to their home provinces amid the COVID-19 emergency. I also urged them to ensure that health protocols are followed and proper coordination between national agencies and local government units are implemented when transporting these LSI.

Aware of the fact that many Filipinos have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, I have renewed my call for the government, particularly the Department of Agriculture, to intensify its support for the agricultural sector in providing livelihood, food security and in boosting economic activities in the countryside. This will not just create jobs for Filipinos, it will also strengthen our efforts to achieve food security in the country.

I also appealed to the government to further assist small and medium enterprises, particularly those involved in the local production of COVID-19-specific medical devices and personal protective equipment.

During a virtual meeting with the officials and key members of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., I have also rallied support from the business community for the government’s post-COVID-19 plans to accelerate the recovery of the country’s economy. I also urged them to help fight corruption as businesses are slated to reopen soon.

I also back the call of President Duterte that there should be no physical face-to-face classes if no vaccine for COVID-19 is available. In lieu of this, I encourage educational institutions to explore possible online or distance learning programs. I also urge telecommunications companies and media networks to help the education sector by upholding the minimum 15 percent of daily total airtime for educational programs mandated under the Children’s Television Act of 1997.

Most importantly, in times of health emergencies, a strong, effective and efficient health care system is required for the country. It is for this reason that I, as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, push for legislative measures which seek to further strengthen and enhance the country’s health care system.

Among the bills I filed, Senate Bill (SB) 1226, or the proposed DoH Hospital Bed Capacity and Service Capability Rationalization Act, aims to authorize the Department of Health (DoH) to increase the bed capacity and service capability of its retained hospitals and to allow it to promulgate evaluation and approval guidelines.

Furthermore, as quarantine protocols and physical distancing measures proved to be crucial in the fight against COVID-19, I also filed SB 1259 or the “Mandatory Quarantine Facilities Act of 2020,” which mandates the establishment of quarantine facilities in every region in the country. I have also proposed a measure, SB 1528, which seeks to amend Republic Act 11332 also known as the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act,” and strengthen the country’s efforts in disease surveillance and epidemiologic investigation.

I have filed SB 1451, also known as the “Medical Reserve Corps Act of 2020,” which seeks to establish a medical reserve corps composed of all persons who have degrees in the field of medicine, nursing, medical technology and other health-related fields, but have yet to have their respective licenses to practice for reasons such as, but not limited to, not having taken and/or passed the licensure examinations in their respective professions.

I have also presided over a committee hearing to tackle Senate Bill 1471 that seeks to amend RA 11036 or the Mental Health Act to further protect our people’s mental health, especially in times of crisis. We have also pushed for enhancements and modernization of the country’s health facilities and sponsored several local hospital bills to further improve the delivery of medical and health care services to the public.

To intensity our fight against corruption, I have also urged the public to report anomalies and corruption-related acts to authorities, especially if in connection with the purchase or selling of medical supplies and equipment amid the country’s fight to control the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Finally, I lauded President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy and for reaffirming stronger regional cooperation with Vietnam, especially on the common fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and in ensuring stable long-term rice supply for the country.

The fight against COVID-19 is not over yet. But this time, as we transition into the “new normal,” we are all going to be in the frontlines to ward off the enemy. This time, we are all soldiers fighting for the survival of our nation and, practically, humankind. This time, we all have the opportunity to shine as heroes. Let us not waste this opportunity.

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