COVID-19 vaccination hearing on Jan. 11 will not include the PSG — Sotto

Marje Pelayo   •   January 5, 2021   •   217

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate hearing on the government’s vaccination plan will push through on Monday (January 11) but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the probe will not include members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Despite this, several senators maintained that it is the responsibility and mandate of Congress to conduct a probe in aid of legislation that will benefit the people.

Sotto, who heads the Senate Committee of the Whole, said the probe will focus on the government’s P72.5 billion budget for the vaccination plan against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and not anymore on the PSG’s use of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines.

“He is misinformed. I’m the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole as Senate President. The topic of my hearing is the roadmap for the P72.5 B for vaccines. Who in heaven’s name told him I’m calling for PSG? I think the President is being misled,” Sotto said in a statement.

Sotto believes the President was misinformed because the PSG was not really part of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he acknowledges the President’s executive privilege to bar the PSG from attending the probe.

“To investigate in aid of legislation is also a valid exercise of legislative power.  There is no preventing Congress from eliciting information in aid of legislation from other resource persons. Congress can exact information on matters that can help it craft better legislation,” he said.

He noted, however, that the Chief Executive should not stop Congress from doing its mandate.

“The Senate should continue with the hearing, especially in the light of the revelation that 100,000 POGO workers were inoculated in the country. That is illegal. In aid of legislation, the Senate must elicit information from other sources on how to strengthen the FDA and the Bureau of Customs to prevent similar episodes in the future,” Drilon said.

For his part, Senator Richard Gordon said it was wrong of the President to warn Congress considering they are a co-equal branch of government.

He added that though he recognizes PSG’s loyalty to him, still no one is above the law.

“Well, that’s unfortunate because I think he’s wrong. The president has got to respect the separation of powers clause,” Gordon said.

“To shackle the Senate or the Congress into not doing what it is supposed to do is I think a wrong thing to do for the president,” he added.

Amid the issue, Gordon still wants to know who supplied that vaccine administered to the PSG and how the group received the unauthorized vaccines.

He said the senators will sit on a caucus to discuss if they will raise the matter in the investigation.

“Bakit nila tinatago? Is somebody laying the predicate here for the Chinese medicine to be pushed? Because lumabas na ngayon 300-200 Chinese na ang inoculate,” Gordon said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, stressed that it is the Senate’s responsibility to scrutinize and put in order any negligence on the part of the Executive branch.

“Kung hindi pa handa at nagkakanya kanya at iba iba ang direksyon ng mga ahensya ng Executive branch, responsibilidad at tungkulin ng Senado magsilbing check and balance at busisiin ito at subukan ilagay sa ayos ang anumang kakulangan o kapabayaan na nagaganap sa kilos ng mga kinaukulan,” Pangilinan said.

This issue is not a matter to be ignored, according to Senator Risa Hontiveros particularly the report that some POGO workers were also inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines without the proper authorization.

“Hindi pwedeng ipagsawalang kibo ng pamahalaan ang napabalitang paggamit ng 100,000 POGO workers ng smuggled at unauthorized vaccine,” the opposition senator said.

“Bakit ba ang nangunguna pa yatang kunsintidor ng kontrabando ay ang sarili pa nating gobyerno?” she added.

To date, Sotto’s committee has yet to finalize the list of resource persons to be invited to the probe on Monday. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Senate adopts resolution seeking immediate pilot test for in-person classes

Robie de Guzman   •   March 3, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate has approved a resolution recommending the resumption of face-to-face classes through the immediate launching of pilot testing in areas with low or zero COVID-19 cases.

The Senate Resolution No. 663, adopted on Tuesday, supports the “holding of pilot testing of localized, limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas as identified by the Department of Education (DepEd) under risk-based assessment.”

The upper chamber said the resolution will enable DepEd to “gather evidence on the ground and design a framework for the safe reopening of schools.”

The resolution, however, stressed that the holding of pilot run for physical classes should still follow the “stringent mitigation measures, strict health protocols, and guidelines of the Department of Health (DOH) and of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).”

This is a blended version with Senate Resolution No. 668 filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, Francis Pangilingan, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Joel Villanueva and Sonny Angara.

In sponsoring the measure, Sotto recognized that distance learning has its advantages especially at a time of pandemic where health and safety are utmost priority, but stressed that face-to-face learning remains a necessity for education.

“It is important to consider that not all households have the same resources and access to internet. Moreover, allowing teachers to see their students face-to-face, even on an intermittent schedule, will enable greater opportunities to check on the learning progress of the students and to provide needed instructional supervision and interventions,” Sotto said.

“Likewise, the customary face-to-face classes prevent gaps and remove the inequality between those students who can afford an effective remote education and those in the marginalized sector,” he added.

For his part, Gatchalian, who heads the Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, stressed that this resolution does not seek to railroad the return of face-to-face classes nationwide.

“We cannot allow Filipino learners to be left behind any longer. In the long and harrowing road toward ending the perennial education crisis in our country, the implementation and normalization of face-to-face education in the New Normal is a pivotal milestone that can only be achieved if we are willing to take the first brave step of launching the pilot testing of localized limited face-to-face classes,” Gatchalian said.

The resolution states that “the prolonged pandemic school closures have adversely affected the learners’ education, but impacting more severely the most vulnerable and marginalized learners and their families and aggravating the already existing disparities within the education system such as gaps in nutrition and childcare.”

The resolution cited the report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) during a recent Basic Education Committee hearing, which shows the Philippines as the only country in the East Asia and Pacific region where schools have remained closed since March 2020, and that globally, there are only 13 other countries that have not opened schools since their respective lockdowns last year.

It was also reported during the said hearing that as of February 9, 2021, there are 433 municipalities and three cities in the country with zero active cases of COVID-19, and that the identified 1,065 schools that are projected to participate in the pilot study for localized limited face-to-face classes represent only around 2.2 percent of all public schools nationwide.

The resolution said the pilot testing will guide the DepEd to set specific standards and health protocols, in coordination with the DOH and IATF-EID, to reopen schools safely, including the provision of safe learning facilities and public health supplies such as adequate supply of safe water, sanitation areas, hand washing stations, soap, alcohol, and other cleaning materials.

It also stressed that pilot testing shall be implemented in low risk areas, and that the learners’ participation shall be voluntary and with expressed permission by their parents and/or guardians.

“To ensure that this endeavor will progress through shared responsibility with the LGUs and will be implemented on a case-to-case basis, the provincial school board, the city school board, and the municipal school board shall assume the major task of assessing and recommending whether to reopen, adopt selective school or localized lockdowns, and resume face-to-face classes in their respective localities, taking into consideration local conditions and resources,” the resolution said.

Senate probes distance learning quality, deferment of proposed resumption of in-person classes

Robie de Guzman   •   February 24, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – A Senate panel will conduct an inquiry on Wednesday on the quality of distance learning, other psycho-social concerns, and the implications of postponing the resumption of face-to face classes amid the threat of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairperson of the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, said that during the hearing, he will urge the Department of Education (DepEd) to use all available tools and resources to avert a looming ‘learning crisis’ as part of its next steps in mitigating the “pernicious effects” of distance learning.

Gatchalian earlier expressed fears that a huge chunk of more than 25 million learners in the basic education sector might end up “unprepared” for their next level of schooling.

While DepEd has exhausted all possible steps to provide for continued education amid the pandemic, Gatchalian stressed that several challenges still hound the rollout of distance learning, including the inadequacy of connectivity, lack of enough guidance from teachers, and the quality and effectiveness of self-learning modules, among others.

“Dahil ipagpapaliban muna nating muli ang pagkakaroon ng face-to-face classes, mahalagang magkaroon tayo ng kaliwanagan sa kung ano ba ang magiging pangmatagalang epekto nito sa ating mga mag-aaral, lalo na’t hinaharap nila ang maraming mga hamong may kinalaman sa epektibong pagpapatupad ng distance learning,” Gatchalian said in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.

“Ang ating layunin sa pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon sa gitna ng pandemya ay masigurong natututo ang ating mga mag-aaral at maging handa sila para sa susunod na antas ng kanilang pag-aaral,” he added.

Duterte earlier thumbed down fresh proposals to resume face-to-face classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19 transmission.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque relayed the president’s decision not to allow any in-person classes until the vaccination program has been rolled out in the country.

Roque, however, said that face-to-face classes may be considered in August this year after the launch of the immunization drive.

A pilot test of limited face-to-face classes was supposed to be held by the government last January but was ordered suspended by Duterte due to increasing COVID-19 cases.

Senate approves proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act

Marje Pelayo   •   February 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate of the Philippines approved, on third reading, the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act that seeks to expedite the process of vaccine procurement in the country.

Twenty two (22) senators voted in favor of the measure.

Under Senate Bill 2057, local government units (LGUs) may procure COVID-19 vaccines for 75% of their target population.

Also, the LGUs will be allowed to make advance payments to the vaccine manufacturer.

The bill also provides a COVID-19 national vaccine indemnity fund or payment for damages should the vaccinee experienced serious side effects.

The House of Representatives on Monday (February 22) approved its own version of the bill after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the proposed measure as urgent.


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