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

Robie de Guzman   •   March 3, 2021   •   407

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 adopts resolution urging Duterte to revoke EO lowering pork import tariffs

Robie de Guzman   •   April 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate Committee of the Whole has adopted a resolution calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw his order to temporarily reduce tariff rates for imported pork and increase its minimum access volume.

At least 17 senators supported the resolution during the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on Thursday that sought to discuss issues on local pork supply and prices due to the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak.

“The two policies can potentially spell the demise of our local hog industry, most of them belong to what we call backyard hog raisers,” said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who drafted the resolution.

The Executive Order 128 mandates that the tariff rate for imported pork meat within quota or minimum access volume (MAV) will be reduced to 5 percent during the first three months upon the order’s effectivity, and to 10 percent in during the months four to 12.

For pork imports outside the quota, the order cuts the tariff to 1r5 percent during the first three months upon its effectivity, and 20 percent for the months four to 12.

The order also increases to 350,000 metric tons, from 54,000 metric tons, the total volume of pork that may be imported to the Philippines.

Duterte signed the order last week in a bid to address supply shortage, stabilize prices, and minimize the inflation rate due to the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak.

The resolution hit the Department of Agriculture for its failure to satisfactorily establish through accurate and reliable data that the country will have 388,790 MT of deficit in the supply of pork for the year which necessitates the increase in MAV.

It also stated that based on the testimonies of the resource persons during the first hearing of the committee, “there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the new set of tariff rates and the huge increase in the MAV can cause the demise of the local hog industry and cost the government billions in foregone revenue.

“Industry members and experts believe that the reduction of import duty and the increase in MAV will not necessarily translate to lower pork prices and that such policies can only result in loss of billions of government revenue and the flooding of the market with imported pork,” the resolution read.

The resolution was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Lito Lapid, Panfilo Lacson, Imee Marcos, Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Richard Gordon, Ramon Revilla Jr., Joel Villanueva, and Cynthia Villar.

Drilon earlier questioned Duterte’s move to sign the order while Congress is on break, stressing that “by law, the authority of the president to fix tariff rates while Congress is not in session can be withdrawn or revoked by virtue of a joint resolution.”

If the executive department will not heed the Senate’s call, Drilon said he would file another resolution in May to revoke the executive order and propose appropriate import duties and minimum access volume of pork.

Congress is currently on break and will resume plenary sessions on May 17.

Malacañang earlier acknowledged that Congress has the authority to revoke EO 128 as the president’s power to adjust tariffs is “only a delegated power given by Congress to the President to impose tariff rates, imports or exports pursuant to Sec. 28 par 2, Art VI of the Constitution.”

Palace respects calls to revoke EO lowering tariff of imported pork

Robie de Guzman   •   April 14, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang respects the plan of some senators to file a joint resolution seeking the revocation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s executive order, which temporarily reduces the tariff rates of imported pork products.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque issued the statement after Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that he and Senators Cynthia Villar and Franklin Pangilinan are intent on filing a resolution to reverse Duterte’s Executive Order 128.

“The Palace respects the call of some lawmakers to revoke Executive Order No 128, which temporarily modifies the rates of import duty on fresh, chilled or frozen meat of swine,” Roque said.

The Palace official acknowledged that Congress has the authority to revoke EO 128.

“In the event that our lawmakers decide to reverse EO No 128 lowering the tariff on imported pork, such action is within the legislative power of our lawmakers. EO No 128 lowering the tariff of imported pork is only a delegated power given by Congress to the President to impose tariff rates, imports or exports pursuant to Sec. 28 par 2, Art VI of the Constitution,” he said.

“Hence, Congress may, by law, impose limitations on such delegated power or may reverse the same,” he added.

EO 128 mandates that the tariff rate for imported pork meat within quota or minimum access volume (MAV) will be reduced to 5 percent during the first three months upon the order’s effectivity, and to 10 percent during the months four to 12.

For pork imports outside the quota, the order cuts the tariff to 15 percent during the first three months upon its effectivity, and 20 percent for the months four to 12.

The EO said that the current 30 percent to 40 percent tariff rate for imported pork will be restored after the 12th month.

Duterte signed the order last week in a bid to address supply shortage, stabilize prices, and minimize the inflation rate due to the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak.

Drilon said the resolution seeks to revoke the EO  and provide for the appropriate tariff and minimum access volume of port importation.

The senator cited Republic Act 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which was the basis of EO 128, stating that the law allows the President to increase, reduce or remove existing rates of import duty “while Congress is not in session.”

However, he noted that Section 1608 (f) of RA 10863 provides that “the power herein delegated to the President may be withdrawn or terminated by Congress through a joint resolution.”

“EO 128 will kill the local hog industry, not the African Swine Fever or ASF. The irrational and drastic decision to increase the minimum access volume or MAV serves as a final ‘nail in the coffin’ of the local hog industry,” Drilon said.

Roque, however, said that the president can still exercise his veto power should he raise objections in the tariff bill.

“Further, should Congress pass another bill changing the tariff on imported pork, the President may veto any particular item or items in such appropriation, revenue, or tariff bill,” he said.

“However, given the importance of the issue, the Executive and the Legislative branches can work together in protecting the interest of the stakeholders such as consumers and our hog raisers alike,” he added.

3 senators to file joint resolution seeking to revoke EO on lower pork import tariffs

Robie de Guzman   •   April 13, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Three senators are planning to file a resolution seeking the revocation of the executive order issued by President Rodrigo Duterte reducing the tariff rate for pork imports.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that he, together with Senator Francis Pangilinan and Senate agriculture committee chairperson Senator Cynthia Villar, will file a joint resolution to revoke Executive Order (EO) 128 and provide for the appropriate tariff and minimum access volume of port importation.

The order mandates that the tariff rate for imported pork meat within quota or minimum access volume (MAV) will be reduced to 5 percent during the first three months upon the order’s effectivity, and to 10 percent during the months four to 12.

For pork imports outside the quota, the order cuts the tariff to 15 percent during the first three months upon its effectivity, and 20 percent for the months four to 12.

The EO said that the current 30 percent to 40 percent tariff rate for imported pork will be restored after the 12th month.

Duterte signed the order last week in a bid to address supply shortage, stabilize prices, and minimize the inflation rate due to the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak.

“By law, the authority of the President to fix tariff rates while Congress is not in session can be withdrawn or revoked by virtue of a joint resolution,” Drilon said.

The senator cited Republic Act 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which was the basis of EO 128, stating that the law allows the President to increase, reduce or remove existing rates of import duty “while Congress is not in session.”

However, he noted that Section 1608 (f) of RA 10863 provides that “the power herein delegated to the President may be withdrawn or terminated by Congress through a joint resolution.”

“EO 128 will kill the local hog industry, not the African Swine Fever or ASF. The irrational and drastic decision to increase the minimum access volume or MAV serves as a final ‘nail in the coffin’ of the local hog industry,” Drilon said.

“Our local hog raisers suffered a double blow in the last two weeks and it is the duty of Congress to stand up for them. Hindi kaya ng maliliit nating hog raisers ang laban sa mga malalaking importers of meat products,” he added.

Drilon said the drastic decrease in tariffs on pork products could result in billions of pesos in lost government revenue.

He added that the Department of Agriculture’s move to recommend the reduction of tariff rates “completely disregarded the livelihood of thousands of local hog raisers.”

During the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on Monday, Drilon questioned the timing of the submission of the President’s proposal to Congress to increase the MAV to 350,000 metric tons (t) from 54,000 t, which was submitted on March 26, the last day of Congress’ session.

He said that Section 6 of the Republic Act 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act provides that “in case of shortages or abnormal price increases in agricultural products, whose quantitative restrictions are lifted under this Act, the President may propose to Congress, revisions, modifications or adjustments of the Minimum Access Volume (MAV).

He, however, noted that this comes with the provision, which states “that in the event Congress fails to act after 15 days from receipt of the proposal, the same shall be deemed approved.”

Drilon maintained that the power to revise, modify or adjust the MAV is a legislative function.

He said that the proposal should have been submitted while Congress was in session to determine the necessary adjustments and that the President could have asked for a special session to discuss the proposal.

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