Nationwide round-up (01/05/21)

Bills on suspension of PhilHealth contribution increase filed in both Senate, House

PROPOSED laws that will defer the scheduled increase in contributions to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) have been filed in both chambers of Congress. At the House of Representatives, Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco said on Tuesday they are ready to review Republic Act No. 11223, or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, with particular focus on the provision mandating an increase in premium contributions every year, starting 2021 until it reaches the 5% limit in 2025. “We urge the PhilHealth and the Department of Health to work closely with the legislature to ensure that our citizens and hardworking Filipinos will not further be exposed to this unnecessary burden while still grappling with the pandemic,” Mr. Velasco said in a statement. Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo, meanwhile, filed House Bill No. 8300, which seeks to grant the President the power to suspend the scheduled increases in member contributions to the state insurer during national emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic by amending Section 10 of the UHC law. President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday called for a halt on the implementation of the increase. “The UHC Act could not have foreseen the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic that has battered our health care sector and our people’s livelihoods in the past year,” the bill’s explanatory note stated. Also on Tuesday, more than 50 House members across party lines filed a resolution to immediately suspend the hike in premium contributions this year. In the resolution, lawmakers said the massive displacement of workers and harsh economic conditions brought about by the pandemic should be considered as a “fortuitous event basis” for the suspension of premium rate contribution by the state insurer. At the Senate, a bill numbered 1968 seeks to amend the UHC law to automatically suspend the annual rate increase should there be an epidemic among other public health emergencies. The bill also provides that the increase will be implemented in the year after the health emergency has ended. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Charmaine A. Tadalan

Law granting President to speed up permit processing during national emergency signed

THE MEASURE authorizing the country’s president to expedite permit processing amid the coronavirus pandemic has been signed into law, a Senate leader said. The new law goes into the books as Republic Act No. 11517, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters over phone message Monday evening. It will grant President Rodrigo R. Duterte powers to speed up processing and issuance of national and local permits, licenses, and certifications in times of national emergency. Mr. Duterte placed the country under a state of calamity for six months, starting March 16 due to the pandemic. It was extended for one year until Sept. 12, 2021. “We’re still effectively in an emergency, and our government processes should really be streamlined, so our people can receive essential services in a timely manner,” Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, key sponsor of the bill, said separately in a statement on Tuesday. The bill will also allow the President to suspend or waive requirements in securing documents at the national and local level. Mr. Zubiri noted it serves as a “partner law” of the Ease of Doing Business Law, or RA 11032, which already shortened the number of days in processing documents to three, seven, or 20 working days. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

SSS president says law needed to defer scheduled hike in members’ monthly contributions

THE HEAD of state-run Social Security System (SSS) on Tuesday said a new law is needed to defer the scheduled increase in member contribution rates starting this month. In a briefing on Tuesday, SSS President Aurora C. Ignacio explained that while they understand the plight of members, mainly workers in the private sector and individual contributors, during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, the Social Security Act of 2018 mandates the hikes scheduled in 2019, 2021, 2023, and 2025. “If that is legislated or mandated to us by the Palace and the President, we will follow),” she said in Filipino. In a televised talk Monday night, President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the suspension of the SSS contribution hike, adding the government will find funds to help address the income gap for SSS. — Gillian M. Cortez

Solon warns of vaccine black market without clear gov’t plan; FDA says ‘special permit’ available

ALBAY Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda on Tuesday nudged the national government to commit to a timeline and clear strategy for the procurement and distribution of coronavirus vaccines to avoid confusion among the general public as reports of “fake vaccines in the black market begin to emerge.” Mr. Salceda, who chairs the House ways and means committee, said a “clearly articulated” national strategy will prevent a setback in the government’s mass vaccination efforts and counter a possible surge in fake or unregistered vaccines. “The strategy will help us identify when and what kinds of storage to procure, what needs can the private sector meet, among other basic components of the vaccination process,” he said in a statement. “We need clarity. If we continue to hear reports that everyone is getting vaccinated except the Filipino public, we will see black market demand surge. That will erode trust in the overall vaccine strategy, and could undermine our efforts to fight COVID,” he said. Meanwhile, an emergency approval may not be needed to administer coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines if it will be given to a small sample of people, according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Rolando Enrique C. Domingo. In a briefing on Monday, Mr. Domingo said a “Compassionate Special Permit” can be issued to the hospitals that will administer the experimental vaccines. “If it’s going to be a smaller group, for example po the PSG (Presidential Security Group)… then we can give a compassionate special permit for this because the group is small and then a hospital can take care of it and a doctor can administer them safely,” he said in mixed Filipino and English. The statement comes after the PSG admitted its personnel received vaccines in line with their mandate to protect the President. The local FDA has yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccine for use in the country. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Gillian M. Cortez

Duterte signs laws on medical student scholarship, alternative learning, and organic agriculture

MALACANANG on Tuesday released three laws, signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Dec. 23, providing scholarship to qualified medical students, strengthening the Alternative Learning System, and amending the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010. The Doktor Para sa Bayan Act, or Republic Act (RA) 11509, establishes a medical scholarship and return service program to deserving students. “This shall ensure the availability of doctors who will provide quality basic, promotive, preventive, and curative health care services in every municipality in the country,” the law states. RA 11510, or the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Act, will “provide adequate, timely, and quality attention and support to the basic learning needs of out-of-school children in special cases and adults including indigenous peoples.” The Department of Education (DepEd) is mandated to work with local governments for the implementation of the ALS programs that will be in line with the K-12 Basic Education Curriculum. RA 1151, meanwhile, paves the way for the establishment of a new office under that will complement and boost the National Organic Agricultural Board. Under the new law, the Department of Agriculture “will be strengthened and empowered in terms of establishing a functional office, to be known as the National Organic Agriculture Program-National Program Coordinating Office (NOAP-NPCO).” The Organic Agriculture Act of 2009 set up the board that serves as a policy-making body. RA 1151 also institutionalizes the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), which certifies small farmers and fisherfolk as producers of organic agriculture products for local trading. — Gillian M. Cortez

SWS Q4 survey: 42% of Filipinos optimistic about economic recovery this year


ABOUT four out of every 10 Filipinos are optimistic that the Philippine economy will improve in the next 12 months, a poll by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed. In a statement on Tuesday, SWS said 42% of Filipinos believe that the economy will improve, 28% say it will stay the same, while 18% say it will worsen. “The resulting Net Economic Optimism score is +24, classified by SWS as high,” it said. The net economic optimism in November was a recovery from the -9 score in July last year and -5 in September. SWS said net economic optimism increased in all areas with Mindanao rising by 51 points, Visayas by 28 points, Metro Manila by 24 points and the rest of Luzon at 19 points. Their net scores in July dipped to a negative range. Net economic optimism in Mindanao and Metro Manila were within the “very high” range at +36 and +31, high in the rest of Luzon at +24, and mediocre in Visayas at +4. The Fourth Quarter (Q4) 2020 survey was conducted Nov. 21 to 25 through face-to-face interviews among 1,500 individuals nationwide with a +-2.5% sampling error margins for national percentages. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas


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