Recognizing the need to improve government hospitals especially in times of crisis, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go sponsored two more local hospital bills to further improve the delivery of medical and healthcare services especially in the provinces.
These are in addition to many other health-related bills the Senate Committee on Health and Demography which he chairs tackled in a series of hearings these past days.
During the plenary session of the Senate last Monday, Go sponsored and sought the Chamber’s support for the immediate passage of House Bill 6036 and HB 6144.
“As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to improve our government health facilities,” Go said.
HB 6036 aims to increase the bed capacity of Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center (LPGH-STC) from 200 to 500 beds, and upgrade its service facilities and professional healthcare services, while House Bill 6144 seeks to increase the bed capacity of the Cagayan Valley Medical Center (CVMC) in Tuguegarao City.
According to Go, the LPGH-STC has already exceeded its bed occupancy rate from 2018 to 2019 at 110.53 percent while CVMC recorded an average bed occupancy rate of 158 percent in the same year as it caters to many patients from two regions.
“We aim to increase the bed capacity of the Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center or the LPGH-STC. Currently, the LPGH is a 200-bed Department of Health (DoH) hospital serving the cities of Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Pasay and Bacoor and Imus in Cavite,” Go explained adding that the bed occupancy rate of the hospital from 2018 to 2019 averaged at 110.53percent.
“(This) is exceedingly above the national standard of 85 percent. Thus, the need to upgrade from 200 beds to 500 beds.
“In 2018, CVMC recorded 16,155 hospital admissions. From 2018 to 2019, it had an average bed occupancy rate of 158 percent, which is tremendously above the national standard of 85 percent. Thus, the bill seeks to increase the bed capacity of CVMC from 500 to 1,000 beds,” Go added.
The issues concerning the overcrowding in public hospitals surfaced even more as the country faces the health crisis. According to Go, this “has been one of the weaknesses of our health care system.”
The Senator cited that in 2018, almost 65 percent or 284 out of 437 public hospitals were already over its limit in terms of bed capacity and patient admittance.
“This included 51 or 73 percent of our DoH hospitals,” Go said.
Go also underscored the need for the legislative branch to act urgently on health-related measures given the ongoing global health crisis.
Last May 27, Senator Go also sponsored five local bills to establish the Bicol Women’s and Children’s Hospital (Camarines Sur), and further capacitate Quirino Memorial Medical Center (Quezon City), Western Visayas Medical Center (Iloilo City), Siargao District Hospital (Surigao del Norte) and Malita District Hospital (Davao Occidental).
Expand probe beyond PhilHealth, Go urges
Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte the expansion of the investigation by Task Force-PhilHealth to include other national agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations, that are fraught with allegations of mismanagement and corruption.
Go said the government should conduct lifestyle checks and charge those guilty of corruption among the government agency personnel.
Last 14 September, the multi-agency task force, led by the Department of Justice, submitted its initial report to the Office of the President where it recommended that criminal and administrative charges be filed against some senior officials of PhilHealth.
“We have to dig deeper and put these people under preventive suspension so that they will not be able to influence any investigation,” he said.
When asked about accusations against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Go reiterates that the President continues to have faith in him.
“That is the prerogative of the president. While the trust is there, we should respect that decision,” he pointed out.
Go clarified that the investigation will still continue in order to find more evidence against other individuals involved in corruption.
The Senator went on to disclose that they had also discussed the need to review existing laws to increase the penalties for crimes related to corruption and illegal drugs.
“We need harsher penalties to serve as effective deterrent to crimes. While we consistently avoid harsher penalties to uphold human rights, we also need to protect the rights of every Filipino to live a life that is free from fear of corruption, criminality and illegal drugs,” Go stressed in the interview.
“(We need to) work together towards the same goal of providing a comfortable life for all Filipinos, specifically… the need to review and strengthen the laws and punishment against crime, particularly those related to corruption and illegal drugs,” he added.
The Senate and House leaders in attendance expressed their agreement with the President’s recommendation to further exercise the oversight function of the legislative branch in order to better aid the Duterte Administration in its campaign against corruption.
Duterte, himself, is also very willing to participate in legislative hearings when necessary to help institutionalize reforms in government, according to Go.
When asked about death penalty, he admitted that it was not discussed during the meeting. However, he reiterated his support for its reimposition for criminals who commit heinous crimes involving plunder and dangerous drugs.
Go disclosed that the President is also open to the possibility of abolishing or privatizing PhilHealth if systemic corruption in the agency is not resolved.
Previously, Go, as chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, issued a challenge to PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran to immediately cleanse the ranks of the agency of corruption while ensuring it continues to provide the best services possible to the Filipino people.
He warned that should the new PhilHealth leadership fail in its efforts to crack down on corruption, he would support an organizational overhaul of the agency or even its abolition if necessary, as mentioned by the President.
Go, however, said that he remains primarily committed to pushing for the implementation of the major reforms to the health care system introduced under the Universal Health Care Act. The act, signed into law on February 2019, automatically enrolls all Filipinos into PhilHealth’s National Health Insurance Program.
The law guarantees them access to preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care for medical, dental, mental and emergency health services while providing them protection from high out-of-pocket financial burdens.
CHR joins martial law commemoration
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Monday joined the rest of the country in commemorating the 48th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in 1972.
Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, CHR spokesperson, said 48 years since the late President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and 34 years since he was deposed from power as a result of the People Power revolution in February 1986, there are still many attempts from various camps to change the dark stages of our history.
De Guia, at the same time, said that there are also many of those who washed their hands on the abuse and violence that the state itself did on the people during those dark years.
“As one of the institutions established to guard and prevent our re-subjection to repressive procedure, the Commission is one in issuing its support to human rights of every Filipino who continues to stand against the tightening of our rights and freedom.
“The insistence of our rights and guarding of those who abuse power doesn’t solely rest on institutions alone. Each and everyone of us should be critical and observant on those who propagate lies and of those who are exploitative and who are indifferent to the masses.
De Guia said it is very easy to become a victim of the narrative that the Philippines prospered under the dictatorship. However, how can one say that the country is progressive when thousands were either killed or harmed when they spoke about the abuses that took place during those days.
She added that many Filipinos who are alive right now were not able to directly see or experience the abuses that occurred but that doesn’t mean that just because you didn’t experience it you will no longer interfere.
The CHR spokesperson said while there are those who divide us over martial law, she encouraged the public to check very carefully those behind its implementation and who really benefitted from it.
“We should not succumb to the confusion on what really took place during that time. This should not be a reason in further disintegration in the country.
De Guia said among those that are being denied by a few that took place during the martial law years are the human rights abuses that the government itself acknowledged and remembered by passing the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act in 2013.
Media workers get NTF-ELCAC support
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) strongly supports any legislation that would protect media workers from any form of exploitation.
This was stressed by Southern Luzon Command chief, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., referring to Senate Bill (SB) 1820 or the Media Workers’ Welfare Act filed by Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III.
“The NTF ELCAC supports Senate Bill 1820 to ensure the protection of the welfare of media practitioners from the exploitative practices of media magnates. These media moguls are raking billions but have neglected their workers working during odd-hours just to beat deadlines,” he said in a statement.
While supportive of media workers, Parlade said he doesn’t approve of the finger-pointing being done by owners of media corporations whenever something goes wrong with their businesses.
“Yet, when things get awry with their franchise requirements they have the gall to blame the government (for) media censure. They want to have their cake and eat it too,” said Parlade, also an official of the NTF ELCAC.
He lauded Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia for expressing her agency’s support to the SB 1820.
“As a country that prides itself with having a free press, ensuring the protection and just compensation of media practitioners is essential in ensuring the protection of the freedom of expression and the right of individuals to access information,” De Guia was quoted as saying.
While praising De Guia for supporting SB 1820, he asked whether the same sentiment was shared by CHR chair Chito Gascon.
“We laud the CHR spokesperson for her stand and thank you for acknowledging that indeed we are (a) country who prides ourselves of enjoying our constitutionally enshrined press freedom. But may we know if the same sentiment is shared by its Chair Chito Gascon?” he added.
He said not many countries in Southeast Asia enjoy the same amount of press freedom being enjoyed by media practitioners in the Philippines and yet the country’s get a bad press in connection with cases he claims are totally unconnected to that issue.
“Not many countries in the region enjoy that democratic right, yet we are being lambasted by UNCHR (United Nations Commission on Human Rights) and the EU (European Union) for a civil case involving Rappler’s Maria Ressa and a franchise issue involving ABS-CBN. That’s not fair, but we know this is (a) propaganda war, so we will take the bull by the horn,” Parlade said.
Stranded Pinoy seafarers’ repatriation eyed
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday said they are eyeing the repatriation of seafarers stuck at sea in Dongshan, China by next week.
This came after 11 members of the Ocean Star 86 vessel renewed their call for assistance after being unable to return home since the onset of the pandemic.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said the current challenges are in the border restrictions of some countries that are yet still not allowing the entry of international flights and for other vessels to disembark.
He said the DFA is continuously coordinating with the Chinese government to temporarily allow their ship to dock for further repatriation efforts to push through.
“We are arranging a repatriation flight this coming week where we hope that they can already join it for us to send them home. But we are continuously talking with China so that they can be allowed to disembark,” Dulay said in a radio interview.
He vowed that this will be the latest targeted date for the return of the seafarers as they are currently only awaiting the permission and protocols provided by China.
Dulay stressed that the local manning agencies have also become a problem as some of them have already abandoned most of the ships at sea.
“Some of the seafarers in China are managed by a manning agency. However, some have already closed and are not talking with us anymore. So now we in the embassies and consulates are instead talking to them directly,” he added.
He said that they will continuously monitor their situation while in constant exchange with the crew members for other supplies that are needed such as sending them packs of grocery items.
Dulay estimates that around 139 seafarers from other parts of the country are yet to be repatriated in the following days after discussions have been made with the respective government officials.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier directed the DFA to identify and put into account all of the remaining Filipinos at sea who are still unable to dock as assistance is imperative for the seafarers who for months have been struggling to survive.
Terror law IRR review ongoing
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday said the review of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) is still ongoing.
Guevarra said the review may be completed sooner than expected and the draft could be finished before the 90-day period lapses, or on 16 Oct.
The first draft of the IRR, was received by Guevarra on Wednesday last week and would be reviewed first before it will be forwarded to the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
He said the IRR under ATL should be completed within 90 days and could bring something in the middle of October.
Under the law, the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the ATC are mandated to promulgate the ATL’s IRR, 90 days after its effectivity on 18 July.
On 3 July, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law and as a result the number of petitions filed before the Supreme Court (SC) are growing.
The petitioners are seeking to nullify the ATL for allegedly being violative of the Constitution.
The petitioners said the implementation of the ATL would lead to violation of human rights such as the freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and travel.
They also argued before the high bench that in effect the ATL, if they exercise the said rights ,could result to warrantless arrests.
The vague and broad definition of terrorism in the law is also being questioned by the petitioners though Guevarra they are considering the issues raised by them in preparing the IRR of the ATL.
P152.35B for climate change, risk reduction sought
The government is seeking a P152.35 billion budget for the implementation of its convergence program on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction next year.
The Cabinet Cluster on Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCAM-DRR), chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced this yesterday, said the Duterte administration has allotted such amount for the government’s Risk Resiliency Program (RRP) under the 2021 National Expenditure Program it submitted to Congress.
The amount is roughly 30 percent higher than the P117 billion allocated for the program this year, it added.
The increase was due to alignment of programs and activities to the priority policies, strategies and projects of the Inter-Agency Task Force Technical Working Group on Anticipatory and Forward Plan for the “new normal” in the CCAM-DDR sector.
DENR Undersecretary for Finance, Information Systems and Climate Change, Analiza Rebuelta-Teh, said the proposed funding will be used to build resilient and sustainable communities as the country continues to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
“We are still in the midst of a health crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The country needs programs that will strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacities of its communities, especially in climate-vulnerable provinces and major urban centers,” Rebuelta-Teh said.
The RRP aims to increase the adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities; ensure the adequate supply of clean air, water, and other natural resources; increase the resilience of critical infrastructures; and enhance knowledge, access to information and institutional capacities of communities.
For next year, the RRP will prioritize 14 climate-vulnerable provinces, which vary in risk factors of rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall and heating events, increased ocean temperature and disturbed natural resources supply.
The provinces are Masbate, Sorsogon, Negros Oriental, Western Samar, Eastern Samar, Sarangani, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga del Norte, Bukidnon, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
The program also covers four major urban centers — Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Iloilo and Metro Davao.
Earlier, DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said addressing climate change remains a top priority for the government even if it is currently preoccupied on controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Cimatu said the climate emergency is like the Covid-19 crisis “just in slow motion and much graver” for it potentially poses existential risks for future generations.
“The government — through the Cabinet Cluster on CCAM-DRR — will prioritize actions and investments that will reduce the long-term health impacts and increase our resilience and adaptive capacity to both the coronavirus pandemic and climate change,” Cimatu said.
Aside from DENR, other members of the Cabinet Cluster included in the proposed budgetary proposal, are the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Agrarian Reform, Interior and Local Government, National Defense-Office of Civil Defense, Science and Technology, Energy, Agriculture, and Public Works and Highways, the Climate Change Commission and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Sunken vessel Pinoy crew get aid
The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has committed to provide assistance to the survivors and casualties of the Gulf Livestock 1, a cargo ship that sank off the turbulent waters of southern Japan early this month.
On Sunday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the government will provide the full support to the two survivors and the families of the seafarer who was found dead as well as those who are still missing.
“They will get help from the government in the form of livelihood assistance and other benefits,” Bello said.
According to Bello, the labor department was also scouting for employment opportunities for the two seafarers who survived the tragedy.
“We are looking at possible job opportunities for them in other shipping companies in case they want to get back at work as soon as possible,” he stressed.
“The labor department has started coordinating with foreign employers who need overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Bello said. These are companies in countries where restrictions have been eased due to improving health conditions,” he added.
On Saturday, 19 September, the survivors, Eduardo Sareno and Jay-Nel Rosales, of the ill-fated cargo vessel have arrived in the country.
Bello lauded the two for their courage and will to survive the violent seas.
“I admire the never-say-die attitude of our seamen in the face of great danger, a trait common to many Filipinos particularly our OFW,” Bello said.
“Filipino seafarers are one of the bravest in the world. That’s why many employers prefer their company at sea,” he added.
Sareno and Rosales were flown home from Tokyo via Philippine Airlines after undergoing medical checkups and spending weeks in hotel quarantine following health protocols in Japan to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The two are awaiting their COVID-19 test results before they’ll be brought to their hometowns.
Gem-Ver 1 crew compensation to be pressed
The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), is set to engage the Chinese government soon to compensate the 22 Filipino fishermen whose boat was rammed by a Chinese vessel last year.
“The DFA confirms receipt of the amount of the claim from the Department of Justice. The matter will now be subject to diplomatic engagement between the two governments while advancing the claims and interests of the affected Gem-Ver fishermen,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Meñez told reporters Saturday night.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said his agency has submitted to the DFA a report on the estimated P12 million being sought by the crew of Gem-Ver 1.
The June 2019 incident involved the Filipino fishing boat Gem-Ver 1 and a Chinese vessel near the Recto Bank, within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
It resulted in the sinking of the Filipino vessel, leaving its 22 Filipino crew floundering in the water for several hours until they were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat.
Filipino workers preferred by Japanese
For showing industriousness and fast learning ability, Filipino workers are among the top foreign workers preferred by employers on Kyushu, Japan.
According to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Osaka, employers in Kyushu, the southernmost and third largest island of Japan, prefer the service of Filipino workers among other nationalities
“The employers were very appreciative of our efforts to reach out to them, particularly amid the pandemic, and expressed their hope for the lifting of the ban on foreign workers due to coronavirus,” Labor Attache Elizabeth Estrada told Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III in her report.
POLO said they paid a visit to the worksites of OFW in vulnerable occupations, particularly in the performing arts and agriculture sectors, and consulted with the employers on the issues and concerns on Filipino workers and labor documentation.
The POLO team also checked the working and living condition of the OFW and promoted the Philippine government’s programs for the Filipino migrant workers.
The employers commended POLO’s sharing of information and documents on the prescribed processes and documentary requirements for both the Specified Skilled Workers (SSW) and the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) and the common mistakes that the POLO-Osaka has observed in the evaluation of labor documents with Japanese translation.
A Specified Skilled Worker is a status of residence applicable to foreigners who work in jobs that require considerable knowledge of or experience in specified industries while the TITP also known as Skills and Technology Transfer Project is an arrangement between POEA and Japan International Training Cooperation Organization that allows the acceptance of skilled workers.
Seven of the eight prefectures of Kyushu are under the jurisdiction of POLO-Osaka, namely, Fukuoka, Saga, Oita, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima.