Tag: COVID-19

On the ‘Disconnect’ Plaguing the P200B Aid Program for Poor Families

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Image Courtesy: Quezon City Government Facebook page

Under the present setup of the P200-billion cash aid program for poor families, local government units should be made to submit their data, subject to vetting by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and other concerned national agencies.

This is a recurring mistake: What we are implementing now is a top-down mode of listing and distribution of funds to recipient families instead of a bottom-up approach, hence there is an obvious disconnect between the national government and the needs and priorities of the rightful recipients.

More than the central government, the LGUs have a better grasp of their constituents’ needs through their community-based surveys being undertaken periodically.

As I post this, we have been receiving numerous complaints of incorrect data that do not tally with the actual number and identities of persons in need on the ground. Mayors are complaining that they bear the brunt of the blame and protests from their constituents because of too much centralization, further compounded by the President’s recent pronouncements that there are enough funds to cover all the 18 million families in compliance with the Bayanihan Act.

Unless immediate adjustments are made by the DSWD and other support agencies, I’m afraid the very purpose of the Social Amelioration Program and the disbursement of the P200 billion will not be accomplished. Worse, and I sincerely hope not, a potential social problem might occur due to the loss of income brought about by a prolonged business inactivity and work stoppage affecting a large segment of our labor force particularly the daily wage earners.

We should all learn from Albert Einstein when he defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

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Data is Key: Flattening the Curve, Preventing a Recession, and Aiding the Poor

It is a most difficult decision to strike a balance between flattening the curve of COVID-19 and the looming economic recession due to a wide swath of business inactivity.

Thus, it is better left to those who have almost unlimited access to all the relevant data to decide which is the best course of action to take moving forward.

Having said that, I am sure that if Congress is provided with all those data, we can help in the policy direction.

On the other hand, there is no perfect system of distribution of aid considering the number of families involved in the cash dole-out, further complicated by a less efficient database due to the late implementation of the National ID system.

Just as intelligence information can spell the difference between success and failure in my previous life in intelligence and law enforcement work, data is the key for our policy makers to make the right decisions at this critical time.

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On the President’s ‘Shoot’ Order and Protests During the Enhanced Community Quarantine

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Image Courtesy: CNN Philippines

Definitely, the President’s warning to have “troublemakers” during the enhanced community quarantine shot was exaggerated and harsh. But coming from this President, what else is new?

However, having been immersed in intelligence and law-enforcement work for more than two decades in my previous life, I couldn’t help but suggest to authorities to thoroughly investigate if the “riot” in Quezon City involving protesters demanding aid – but in violation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine – was indeed a valid “hunger-driven” spontaneous act of people who simply lost their patience out of exasperation, or a politically instigated act of violence by sinister groups out to take advantage and destabilize the administration and duly constituted authority.

As such, concerned authorities may opt to look into the possibility that Wednesday’s incident could be a “dry run” to test public sentiment as well as the ability of law enforcers to respond. At least one group, Kadamay, has posted on its Facebook page an “invitation” to an event scheduled for April 1.

There is no saying however, that all protests during the ECQ should be presumed as politically instigated. Yet, it cannot be denied that there may be groups with motive to exploit the volatility of the situation to advance their own political agenda.

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Recommendations on the President’s First Weekly ‘Bayanihan Act’ Report

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[Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson’s comments/recommendations on the President’s first weekly report to Congress as mandated by RA 11469, in his capacity as member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee]

1. As suggested by some sectors, there must be a National Strategic Plan from which a National Action Plan, similar to an OPLAN is based.

2. There must be an overall plan by the Executive Department to mitigate the risks and minimizing or stopping the spread of COVID-19, including a detailed presentation of how funds will be disbursed and used by the implementing agencies. The same must be made public for transparency.

3. Correspondingly, in dealing with the threat of COVID-19, our HEALTH WORKERS – many of whom had already died and still more facing the prospect of being overwhelmed by the COVID-19 menace – should instead be made the country’s third and LAST LINE of defense. The FILIPINO PEOPLE themselves should be our FIRST LINE of defense or front-liners; the SECOND LINE are our LAW ENFORCERS, LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND THE IMPLEMENTING AGENCIES who will implement the action plan.

4. The Executive Department should provide Congress with a clearer picture of the COVID-19 situation and a progress update of implementation such as how many have been tested, number of displaced families and workers per region, and its impact on the country’s economy, including the steps undertaken to adapt to the developing situation, in its next report.

5. While the President’s initial report lists three priority programs: (1) providing emergency assistance to affected sectors; (2) securing facilities and resources for the health sector; and (3) performing fiscal and monetary actions for the economy – there does not appear to be an action plan for each of them. This must be spelled out in the next report to Congress.

6. Such lack of planning and coordinating threatens to defeat the purpose of the urgency of RA 11469 – that is, to resolve and fight the virus by way of smooth and expeditious implementation.

7. The lack of foresight in this regard is obviously causing the delays as we see it actually happening now. The Executive Department knew beforehand what they wanted to ask from Congress. When we gave it to them in a record time of 18 hours, apparently they were not prepared to execute.

8. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has finally approved the use of rapid test kits, they should come up with clear guidelines on its use and usefulness, including its strengths and weaknesses in order to maximize a supervised mass testing by the local government units followed by an immediate distribution to LGUs, depending on demand and urgency.

9. The immediate implementation of the Bayanihan Act’s provision on the Special Risk Allowance granted to public health workers, on top of their regular hazard pay, and other benefits to both public and private health workers, especially to benefit those already infected or have died in the line of duty must be prioritized.

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#PINGterview: Pagbigay ng Ayuda sa COVID19-Affected Areas, Dapat Ibigay Agad at Bantayin!

In an interview on DZBB/GMA News TV, Sen. Lacson stressed at least P200B in assistance to poor families affected by the COVID19-triggered quarantines should be distributed soonest, with scrutiny from the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee.

NOTES and QUOTES:
Continue reading “#PINGterview: Pagbigay ng Ayuda sa COVID19-Affected Areas, Dapat Ibigay Agad at Bantayin!”

Editorial: Act of responsibility [People’s Tonight]

From People’s Tonight: As Lacson said, let’s do our part in thwarting the spread of the virus even in our own little way.

Continue reading “Editorial: Act of responsibility [People’s Tonight]”

An Appeal for Public Disclosure: How the Average ‘Juan’ Can Help Flatten the COVID-19 Curve

With Republic Act 11055 or the Philippine Identification System Act still not ready for implementation, it is not easy for the government to trace ordinary citizens who tested positive for COVID-19, as well as those who were directly exposed and symptomatic. Making the job harder is the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (R.A. 10173), which protects the right to privacy and non-disclosure of medical records of patients.

As an admitted oversight of Congress, the recently enacted Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (R.A. 11469) does not authorize the President to direct the disclosure of COVID-19 patients.

But if public figures like Prince Charles, Boris Johnson, Tom Hanks, Christopher de Leon and several of our own legislators had voluntarily and publicly declared they are or were infected, maybe it is time for the “man on the street” – the ordinary Filipinos – to do the same in order to alert those who they had interacted with to take the necessary measures, so that the infection does not spread further.

If their identities are made public voluntarily, even through their barangay bulletins, homeowners’ associations or any social media platforms available, then people who they directly got in contact with can come forward to be tested and treated if needed.

As an elected Senator of the Republic, I appeal to our citizens to practice that selfless act of responsibility to society and do our part in hastening to flatten the curve by thwarting the spread of the virus even in our own little way.

COVID-19 may not be like the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), where there is social stigma attached to the afflicted because it is sexually transmitted in most cases. Nevertheless, it does not diminish the threat that COVID-19 poses not only to those vulnerable but those around them.

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On the Critical Need for COVID-19 Mass Testing

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When we say mass testing, we do not refer to all the 100-plus million Filipinos. It’s only the most vulnerable: those over 60 years old, which constitutes not even 10 percent of the entire population; those who are exposed; and those with symptoms. The rapid test kits can still be useful according to its specificity.

Thus, DOH Sec. Francisco Duque III may not be very responsive when he says mass testing is not possible because there are not enough testing kits. Besides, I asked doctors who are knowledgeable about antibodies and viruses and all the other technical terms in the medical field. Their opinions mostly differ from those of the Secretary of Health.

Testing of all symptomatics and those who are high-risk is ideal. This is where the rapid test kits come in. The rapid test kit will identify the positives early so that they can be isolated to prevent infection spread.

However, this is not to say rapid test kits as a business deal may be allowed. On the other hand, such kits donated from abroad – and even those purchased by local businessmen who will or have donated the same to local government units to help achieve mass testing – should be given some leeway, as long as authorities properly supervise or at least give enough information about their use and usefulness.

True, the test using the PCR is more accurate and reliable. But how many do we have? How many have the expertise to operate, assuming that we have enough PCR machines?

If the DOH does not change its way of handling the crisis, I hate to say, we may be overrun by COVID19 faster than we can imagine.

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Read: RA 11469, Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Anti-COVID)

Republic Act 11469 gives the government the needed powers to address the COVID-19 emergency. Section 4 (j) of the law aims to “ensure that donation, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed and that health products for donation duly certified by the regulatory agency or their accredited third party from countries with established regulation shall automatically be cleared: Provided, this shall not apply to health products which do not require a certification or clearance from the Food and Drug Administration.”

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How Flexibility and Urgency from the DOH and FDA Can Save More Lives from COVID-19

Image Courtesy: Senate PRIB

Our lockdown is obviously working, no doubt. We can see it ourselves even from the windows of our own houses. But it is not enough by itself to flatten the COVID-19 curve. South Korea has reported to have flattened the curve through mass testing, not lockdown.

What we lack is the ability of the Department of Health to be more flexible. Hundreds of thousands of rapid test kits for donation by some local businessmen and procured from South Korea and China – already in use in those jurisdictions, having been certified by their regulatory agencies – have already arrived at least over a week ago. Yet, a big volume is still being held by Customs. Why?

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration – an agency under the DOH – still refuses to issue even a provisional accreditation, which is needed so those test kits can be distributed for use particularly by those who have symptoms or those who have had direct contact with infected persons, even on a “do-it-yourself” basis, so they can immediately practice self-isolation should they test positive. In turn, this can prevent or at least minimize the spread of the virus.

That, instead of overly restrictive regulations imposed by our DOH, will certainly help obviate a possibly uncontrollable spread of the COVID-19.

As of last Monday, when we were deliberating on the just-signed Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, we tested only 1,500 Filipinos, more or less. With a population of 107 million, the worst is yet to come unless DOH and FDA act with urgency.

That is why I proposed an amendment – which is now Section 4 (j) of RA 11469, the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act. This aims to “ensure that donation, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed and that health products for donation duly certified by the regulatory agency or their accredited third party from countries with established regulation shall automatically be cleared: Provided, this shall not apply to health products which do not require a certification or clearance from (FDA).”

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