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Malasakit, bayanihan amid the pandemic

If there’s anything this crisis has taught us, it’s that the Filipino spirit will overcome anything with masalakit and bayanihan.

Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go

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Over the past few days, I had the honor of attending the inauguration of the 72nd, 73rd and 74th Malasakit Centers at the Aurora Memorial Hospital, Romblon Provincial Hospital and Dr. Fernando B. Duran Sr. Memorial Hospital in Sorsogon, respectively, through videoconferencing.

In case many have already forgotten due to the many events that transpired during this pandemic, the Malasakit Center is a one-stop platform where every Filipino, especially the poor, can avail of assistance for their medical expenses. These centers are concrete expressions of the government’s compassion and care towards suffering Filipinos.

In the middle of the current health crisis affecting our nation, these Malasakit Centers proved to be a vital component of our health system, especially in government-run hospitals in the provinces.

I am excited to see the areas of Aurora, Romblon and Sorsogon being served by these centers at a time when we are enhancing the capabilities of our health facilities outside our urban centers.

As we continue to manage the COVID-19 crisis, other health concerns do not stop at our people’s doors. Medical treatments and care must go on. Through these Centers, our most vulnerable population need not to worry about financial help from the government by going through different government offices, consuming time and resources. With the Malasakit Center, an individual can just step right in and be assessed by agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, among others.

It is also out of malasakit for our suffering countrymen that I called out the unjust electricity bills that some consumers received from power distribution utilities, such as Meralco. Profits should not be prioritized over the welfare of the general public. Companies should also be sensitive to the plight of our countrymen, especially at this time.

While malasakit allows us to extend a hand to our fellow countrymen in need, it is bayanihan that makes us resilient and stronger as a nation. As we observe July as the National Disaster Resilience Month, I reiterate my call for support for the passage of my proposed measure to create the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), as well as the bill mandating the establishment of mandatory evacuation centers nationwide.

Through these legislative measures, it is my hope that we can change our country’s approach when dealing with natural disasters and calamities. Now that we have entered the rainy season, we must be wary of the looming hazards brought by numerous typhoons that will hit us this year. Furthermore, we must double our efforts especially that the effects of these disasters will be heightened due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the reason why I filed the Department of Disaster Resilience Act, which will establish a more empowered, highly-specialized and responsive DDR with one unified command. The agency shall be responsible for creating safe, adaptive and disaster-resilient communities. At present, different government agencies deal with disaster risk reduction and management, while the current lead National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council is merely a coordinating body.

With the DDR, our government can be more unified in its response in times of calamities. We will be able to channel more resources and manpower at a faster and more efficient pace. With the DDR leading our national disaster response, we can be more prepared and more resilient against the dangers of natural calamities.

Related to this, I also call for the passage of the Mandatory Evacuation Center Act, which will require every province, city and municipality to construct such centers that will be equipped with emergency packs, medicines and other basic necessities. In light of the pandemic, these evacuation centers must also pass strict health standards to ensure that evacuees won’t cluster to spread infectious diseases. It is clear that we must employ a proactive and holistic approach, which is the most effective way to mitigate the adverse impacts caused by pandemics and other natural disasters.

I likewise ask for support for Senate Bill 203, or the National Housing Development, Production and Financing Act, and SB 1227, or the Rental Subsidy Program Act, to lessen housing problems in the country by providing means for Filipinos to have a home of their own, especially those who are displaced because of incidents such as fire and disasters.

Let us keep on finding ways to emerge as a better country. As we continue to slowly and carefully open our institutions and economies, we must adapt to the new normal. This is why I have recently called on local authorities to level up our modes of transportation, such as designating more bicycle lanes with proper lane markings, road safety signs and lighting, among other safety measures.

As we are set to open our schools through a mixed learning system, I have also called on local government units to wisely utilize their respective Special Education Fund. Despite the pandemic, learning must go on while we ensure the safety of our students. Our education system must be quick to adapt to conduct classes through alternative means as the world waits for a vaccine to end the pandemic.

My fellow Filipinos, now is the time to personify solidarity as we face a crucial time in this pandemic. Let us observe standard health protocols to slow down the viral threat as we adapt to the new normal and resume our daily lives with caution. If there’s anything this crisis has taught us, it’s that the Filipino spirit will overcome anything with masalakit and bayanihan.

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