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Transition to e-governance pushed

Almost every transaction now is done online, that is why there is a need for such a transition in government.

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Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go emphasized the need for the government to transition to e-governance, saying it will improve the efficiency of government processes and transactions and curb red tape.

“Almost every transaction now is done online, that is why there is a need for such a transition in government. Getting documents such as birth certificates and applying for licenses should now be done online to minimize face to face transactions. We don’t need to fall in line anymore and we’ll be able to cut red tape,” go explained.

Hours before President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address last week, Go filed a measure institutionalizing the transition of the government to e-governance in the digital age amid the current challenges caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senate Bill 1738, or the E-Governance Act of 2020, mandates the government to establish an integrated, interconnected and interoperable information- and resource-sharing and communications network spanning the entirety of the national and local governments; internal records management information system; information database; and digital portals for the delivery of public services.

The measure likewise pushes for the digitization of paper-based and other traditional modes of workflows for more efficient and transparent public services.

In the explanatory note of the bill, Go states the transition of the government to the digital age has been a long time coming.

“In an age where almost everything can be done online and through other digital platforms, the government must harness the power of information and communications technology to better serve its purpose and bring the government closer to the people,” he explained.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Go explained the shift to e-governance can also cover the delivery of various medical and health care services to make them more efficient and accessible to Filipinos.

He expressed his agreement with consumer groups promoting the digitalization of health services, noting the increasing relevance and rising demand for digital systems and telehealth services in addressing minor health concerns. With e-health platforms, patients experiencing minor health issues can avoid needlessly going to hospitals and lessen their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other serious infections.

In a recent online seminar entitled “Healthscape PH: Harnessing the Power of AI and Mobile Health in Transforming PH Healthcare,” the responses of the participants indicated people are likely to continue using telemedicine and e-services even after a vaccine for COVID-19 is discovered and made available to the public.

The Department of Health has already started promoting telehealth services within the National Capital Region. They are expected to expand the services to other regions.

Go further explained that due to the electronic nature of e-governance, service delivery to citizens will be facilitated in a more timely, cost effective and efficient manner. Filipinos will also be empowered through better access to government information with less bureaucratic delays.

The senator stressed during the interview that government policies should benefit everyone, especially in light of the pandemic. He added no one should be left behind and that the government must always prioritize the welfare of the poorest of the poor since they need government attention the most.

Over the weekend, Senator Go appealed to the government to add more funds for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines in order to make available more vaccines, particularly for the poorest of the poor and vulnerable sectors. The finance department has earlier announced that it earmarked P20 billion for the procurement of said vaccine to cover twenty million Filipinos.

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Go backs OPAPP, Mindanao agencies’ proposed budgets

Kristina Maralit

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Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Wednesday threw his support behind the passage of the proposed budgets for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) and Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) for 2021, stressing allocated funds would institute reforms vital in bringing in more economic opportunities and lasting peace and stability in the southern tip of the country.

During yesterday’s hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Finance, Go reminded fellow lawmakers that “Mindanao and its people have suffered decades of injustice and social inequity” and passing the proposed expenditures of the said agencies would pave the way for the much needed reform and development in the region.

He pointed to the government’s “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) Program,” an initiative aimed in decongesting Metro Manila and highly urbanized areas, as one way of encouraging investments and promoting economic opportunities in all regions to motivate Filipinos to reside in their provinces particularly those in Mindanao — something the OPAPP and MinDa can work side-by-side with.

“To do this, I emphasized the need to boost the development in our rural areas by ensuring peace and order in the area, creating jobs, incentivizing businesses to invest in the countryside, and providing support for micro, small and medium enterprises, among others,” stated the Senator.

“No matter which part of the country they’re in, it is imperative that we provide our countrymen with comfortable and progressive lives,” he added.

Go then commended the SPDA for promoting the development of southern Philippines through its various programs and projects and urged the agency to further assist in the development of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

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Labor chief lauds ‘kafala’ scrapping

We wish to thank the state of Qatar for this significant reform in their employment laws.

Raymart Lolo

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Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are among the thousands of migrant workers in Qatar who will reap benefits from the recent abolishment of the “kafala” system, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) said on Wednesday.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, in a statement, said the Qatar government’s move to scrap the “kafala” system, or the stringent monitoring of migrant laborers, working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors, is seen as “a giant step towards improving the work condition of Filipino workers” in the Arab state.

It is an employment sponsorship system used to monitor migrant laborers working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors in Gulf Cooperation Council member states and a few neighbouring countries, such as Bahrain and Kuwait. The system requires migrant workers to get permission from their employers should they decide to change jobs.

“We wish to thank the state of Qatar for this significant reform in their employment laws. This is a giant step to improve the work conditions of migrant workers, especially our OFW,” Bello said in a statement.

Citing a report from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Qatar, Bello noted Qatar’s enactment of Decree Law 18 and 19 of 2020 amending some provisions of Labor Law No. 14 and 21 series of 2004.

The new legislations allow all migrant workers to change jobs before the end of their contracts without first having to obtain a “No Objection Certificate” from their current employer, and provide greater clarity regarding the termination of employment.

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AFP, PNP downplay Facebook purging

We in the AFP are looking at that report by Facebook in removing certain accounts and posts in its platform.

Kristina Maralit

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday insisted they continue to abide by the rules on social media use and promote proper decorum and cyber etiquette in all their engagements on all online platforms.

This, after Facebook announced its recent purging of accounts with alleged links to the military and police over “inauthentic behavior” with regards to posts related to domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed unit the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).”

AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said they are now looking into the matter and assured all the military’s official social media accounts are “up and running.”

“We in the AFP are looking at that report by Facebook in removing certain accounts and posts in its platform. In so far as the AFP is concerned, there are no accounts that the AFP maintain that were shutdown or removed by Facebook. All of them are up and running,” Arevalo said in a statement.

“The AFP upholds truth and accountability of network and SocMed account managers as to the contents of postings in our websites, pages and accounts,” he added.

Facebook’s Head of Security Policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, disclosed in a webinar that they have taken down accounts, pages, and profiles on Facebook and Instagram with supposed links to the AFP and PNP.

Gleicher, however, did not reveal up to what extent the reported level of involvement the military and police has with the deleted accounts, some of whose activities were traced in China.

The PNP, meanwhile, maintained that all of its official accounts on Facebook and other social media platforms are compliant and will continue to adhere to follow policies concerning representations made on behalf of the organization online.

“We recognize social media as an effective tool that technology can offer, especially at this period of health emergency, to establish proactive information, and awareness activities as well as to build harmonious relationships with the community. As far as we are concerned, official Facebook pages of the PNP and those of our lower units remain compliant with standards and continue to serve its purpose along these objectives,” acting PNP spokesperson PCol. Ysmael Yu said in a separate statement.

All comments and opinions of individual personnel, associations, and sectoral groups on matters that are not related to the organization’s activities “are hereby disowned by the PNP as unofficial and unauthorized,” Yu added, and that the PNP respects “the administrative action taken by Facebook on what they perceive to be violations of its terms of use.”

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Marawi mayor throws support behind Del Rosario

While it can be admitted that there have been delays in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi’s most affected areas, these should not be attributed to the chairperson’s fault.

Hananeel Bordey

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Despite opposition coming from some civic society groups, Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra expressed his strong support to the appointment of Eduardo del Rosario as Secretary of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD).

During the continuation of the Commission on Appointment’s committee hearing on Del Rosario’s (ca) appointment yesterday, Gandamra defended Del Rosario from claims of some critics that the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) has been “ineffective” in its rehabilitation of the war-torn city.

“They said the Task Force Bangon Marawi has been ineffective because of the delays in the rehabilitation of Marawi City. They are even asking him (Del Rosario) to step down as chairperson,” Gandamra said.

“While it can be admitted that there have been delays in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi’s most affected areas, these should not be attributed to the chairperson’s fault,” he justified.

He pointed to the bureaucracy as the main culprit for the delay of the reconstruction of the city three years after President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi from the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group.

Even the downloading of funds for the war-torn city’s rehabilitation faced difficulties due to layers of bureaucracy, Gandamra lamented.

He said this was the reason why they were invited by the Chief Executive to his office to “lobby” their concerns to fasttrack the infrastructure projects in his jurisdiction.

The Marawi mayor said that Del Rosario should not be solely blamed for the delays in the rehabilitation as the TFBM is composed of members from different national agencies.

“The Task Force Bangon Marawi, in spite of the shortcomings, has been successful in many ways through its projects and initiatives from the time of the siege and beyond,” expressed Gandamra.
“The delays are caused by circumstances that are beyond the TFBM’s control as it is under the national government.”

He further noted that Del Rosario has been meeting with different sectors including traditional, religious and other leaders of the local government to consolidate their views in the reconstruction of the city.

“We have worked alongside him and the members of his team. And we believe that the accusations and opposition directed towards him and the Task Force Bangon Marawi are no longer relevant as of this time,” Gandamra said.

Last week, several groups of internally displaced persons (IDP) have opposed the confirmation of Del Rosario as Housing Secretary, citing his alleged poor track record in the government’s effort to rehabilitate the war-torn city of Marawi in Mindanao.

Gandamra asked for unity among his constituents until the rehabilitation of Marawi is completed.

He said there is no room for “strife and divisiveness” instead, constituents of Marawi City should encourage TFBM in attaining their task to rebuild the Islamic City.

Previously, Del Rosario mentioned the construction of three bridges, 24 barangay complex, Grand Padian Market, Peace Memorial Park, Marawi Museum, four-story buildings, as some of the infrastructure projects that are currently under construction within Marawi’s most affected area.

Del Rosario also informed the CA panel that P5 billion has been allotted for the Marawi rehabilitation for 2021 under the budget proposal submitted by the Executive Department.

For the second time, Del Rosario’s appointment was not endorsed to the plenary due to time constraints.

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Police, military strengthen joint security efforts

Kristina Maralit

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With the national government ramping up its efforts to ensure national security, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday signed a joint directive to further strengthen the fight against communist insurgency and terrorism in the country.

PNP chief PGen. Camilo Pancratius Cascolan and Gen. Gilbert Gapay, AFP Chief of Staff, signed the Joint Letter Directive 03 series of 2020, also known as the “Guidelines in Evaluating the Effectiveness of Internal Security Operations in Support to the National Thrust to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” during the National Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Center (JPSCC) meeting held in Camp Crame.

Both chiefs also inked a Joint Resolution that set the parameters in declaring communist guerilla fronts as weakened or dismantled.

On hand to witness the ceremonial signing were top officials of the government’s security cluster including Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo.

“The Philippine National Police fully supports all peace and security initiatives under the framework of the Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Center in support to the national objective to end local communist armed conflict within the defined timeline,” Cascolan said.

The JPSCC meeting is timely, Cascolan noted, as this only strengthens the unity of purpose and inter-operability between the police and military especially when it comes to the government’s counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations, particularly in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BAR).

“While we must perform our primary responsibility to serve and protect our people, it is our duty to give our best to help the AFP in defending our country by providing maximum assistance and support to the AFP especially in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region,” stated the PNP Chief.

Aside from presenting the counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism efforts of the PNP, the event also served as a venue for Cascolan to reiterate his 9-point Strategic thrusts as part of the PNP P.A.T.R.O.L. Plan 2030, citing continuous campaign against loose firearms, illegal discharge of firearms, and campaign against criminal gangs, and drug suspects and peddlers.

“The signing of the Joint Letter Directive and Joint Resolution will collectively adopt all pursued cooperative efforts among the AFP and our organization to attain our goals with the end view of realizing the Filipino people’s aspirations for peace, security, stability and progress, and upholding their civil, political and human rights, under the rule of law,” he said.

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More Boracay tourists allowed by 1 October

Raymart Lolo

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The island paradise of Boracay will be allowing the entry of more local tourists from different parts of the country starting 1 October 2020, the Department of Tourism (DoT) announced on Wednesday.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the popular tourist destination will be relaxing further the existing restrictions and would soon allow visitors coming from areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) which includes Metro Manila.

This development came as a result of a special meeting convened by the principals of the Boracay Interagency Task Force (BIATF) led by its chairperson Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and Co-Vice chairpersons, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, Romulo-Puyat, and local officials of the Province of Aklan.

During the said meeting, the BIATF approved an earlier request of the local government to expand Boracay’s reopening to domestic travelers in addition to tourists from Western Visayas who have already been permitted to visit the island since 16 June 2020.

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DU30 defends Manila Bay sands project

MJ Blancaflor

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President Rodrigo Duterte has defended the government’s move to pour artificial “white sand” on the shores of Manila Bay, even if the Department of Health (DoH) expressed alarm that hundreds of people trooped to the area without observing one-meter distancing.

In his public address Monday night, the President told his Cabinet members to ignore criticisms on Manila Bay’s nourishment project, saying that the opposition would find a way to fuss over the administration’s programs.

“People now really enjoy the reclaimed area with the white sand,” Duterte said.

“The yellows, if you say something, if you do something, you are evil. If you won’t do it, you are still bad. Son of a bitch. What do you want?” he added.

The President also lauded Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu for fulfilling his “dare” to rehabilitate the garbage-ridden Manila Bay, known for its picture-perfect sunsets.

The DENR on Tuesday welcomed the support shown by the President.

DENR Undersecretary for Solid Waste Management and LGU Concerns Benny Antiporda the President’s remarks underscored the fact that the opposition and other critics would always find a way to fuss over the administration’s programs.

“Well the President believes in the wisdom of the people and the President also believes in Vox Populi, Vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God),” Antiporda told the Daily Tribune during a phone interview.

“So when he sees the support of all these people to the Manila Bay project, he was also overwhelmed that they are happy with the project,” he added.

DoH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it was worrying that Filipinos went to Manila Bay over the weekend for a chance to view the synthetic white sand — made of crushed dolomite rocks — along Roxas Boulevard.

Visitors were seen taking pictures and holding zumba sessions even if the government discourages Filipinos from doing non-essential things outdoors amid the ongoing pandemic.

Due to the incident, authorities closed off Manila Bay to the public. Ermita Police Station Commander Ariel Caramoan was also relieved from his post for supposedly failing to implement safety protocols at the controversial baywalk.

Manila Bay grabbed headlines earlier as environmental groups criticized the move to put pulverized rocks along its shores, saying it would hurt the natural ecosystem in the area and in Cebu, where the dolomites came from.

A dolomite is a calcium magnesium carbonate used for construction works.

with FRANCIS WAKEFIELD

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Ensure safety of students, CHEd urged

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As the country’s education system adjusts to the adverse effects of the ongoing health crisis, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go last Monday implored the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and the leadership of all state universities and colleges to ensure the safety and well-being of their students and personnel.

During a hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Finance, Go urged all sectors involved to work together for the good of the studentry.

“In the implementation of policies, listen to the students, the parents, the professors. We all have to be in this together. The national government is here to help you,” Go said.

While expressing his full support to the agency and educational institutions during the budget hearing, Go quizzed CHEd about the low number of universities and colleges with Centers of Excellence, Center of Development, with recognized flagship program, with Autonomous or Deregulated status, or with Level III or Level IV accredited programs.

“Only 18 percent of Higher Education Institutions are with Centers of Excellence, Center of Development, with recognized flagship program, with Autonomous or Deregulated status, or with Level III or Level IV accredited programs,” Go noted.

“Ideally, the more we have of these excellent educational institutions, the better the quality of our education,” Go lamented as CHEd chair J. Prospero de Vera III emphasized that the quality of education is correlated to the level of government investment.

Go asked for updates regarding the agency’s initiatives to render services in the education sector via digital means, saying, “I am pushing for the country’s transition to the digital age through the E-Governance bill I filed. I see that CHEd has been implementing initiatives to render services through digital means.”

“On this end, what are the primary obstacles which the CHEd had encountered in its initiatives to use information and communications technology to improve the higher education system and how did you address these?” he asked.

While some progress has been made, de Vera lamented that connectivity is still low in many external campuses around the country. For that, de Vera mentioned that the agency will need the help from other government agencies to resolve the connectivity issues in various educational institutions nationwide.

In July of this year, Go filed a measure institutionalizing the transition of the government to e-governance in the digital age.

Senate Bill 1738, or the E-Governance Act of 2020, mandates the government to establish an integrated, interconnected, and interoperable information and resource-sharing and communications network spanning the entirety of the national and local government, an internal records management information system, an information database and digital portals for the delivery of public services.

Meanwhile, Go reminded CHEd to deliver on the President’s directive to help students who are children of overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

Last 31 August, President Rodrigo Duterte announced the one-time grant of P30,000 as assistance to college students who are children of OFW who were displaced, repatriated, deceased or affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant is intended for qualified beneficiaries who are enrolled or about to enroll in any state or private colleges and universities recognized by CHEd. An estimated 33,000 students are expected to benefit from this assistance.

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Expediting raps vs PhilHealth execs pushed

MJ Blancaflor

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President Rodrigo Duterte is hoping that Ombudsman Samuel Martires would fast-track the filing of charges against Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) officials who are allegedly linked to multi-billion-peso corruption within the firm, the Palace said Tuesday.

“The President is believing, and trusting, that Ombudsman Martires will eventually file the corresponding charges against those who should be penalized,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing.

President Duterte, in his speech Monday night, commended Martires — whom he called a “very reasonable” man — for “trying his best” to aid the administration in resolving corruption cases in PhilHealth.

He also pointed out the good rapport between the Ombudsman and the Executive department.

“I find Martires a very reasonable man, but when cases involving PhilHealth came out, I said, ‘Well, I think he is also really trying his best to help us,’” Duterte said.

The President, however, clarified that he was not trying to influence the decision of the anti-graft body on the PhilHealth case.

“We just want to expedite and cut the delay because that’s really the strategy of a lawyer to prolong the case, until such time na yung complainant would lose air. But this Philhealth is different because the government is interested,” he said.

The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the suspension of 13 PhilHealth officials stemming from an old complaint, amid the ongoing probe into corruption allegations hounding the insurance firm.

Duterte recently endorsed the filing of administrative and criminal complaints against former PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales and several other high-ranking officials over alleged anomalies based on the initial results of the probe of an inter-agency panel he had created.

The President’s commendation of Martires came after the Ombudsman restricted the public’s access to the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of state officials — a move seen by media groups as a hindrance on government transparency. Reporters have been requesting copies of President Duterte’s SALN in 2018 and 2019, both of which have yet to be publicized.

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