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

Robie de Guzman   •   February 24, 2021   •   624

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 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 asks all sectors to unite, help gov’t end COVID-19 pandemic

Robie de Guzman   •   April 15, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has urged all sectors in the country to unite and help in government efforts to combat the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the appeal as he cited measures implemented by the government to slow down the virus transmission and shrugged off criticism over the Duterte administration’s handling of the public health crisis.

In a statement, Roque said the government has intensified testing, tracing, isolation, treatment, and vaccination efforts to address the COVID-19 spike.

Citing global data, the Palace official said that the Philippines ranks third after India and China in terms of tests per million population, while in terms of total tests conducted, the Philippines is second after Indonesia among ASEAN countries, with more than 10, 421,636 tests conducted, as of April 5, 2021.

“We have a weekly average of 52,565 tests from April 4-10, and reaching a high of 63,839 tests conducted last April 8, 2021,” Roque added.

On tracing, Roque said the government has strengthened and improved the use of Staysafe.ph system by using automatic contact tracing through Smart Messaging System and the supplementation of around 27,672 contact tracers in the NCR Plus.

The NCR Plus refers to the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna. The area was previously placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March 29 to April 11 due to a surge in coronavirus infections and later reverted to modified ECQ until April 30.

Malacañang also said that the government built more facilities to augment the need for quarantine centers.

“On isolation, the Department of Public Works and Highways continue to build facilities and mobile hospitals to augment the need for quarantine facilities, including the activation of more than 1,700 beds, including the recently opened 110-bed capacity modular hospital in Quezon Institute and 300-bed capacity Temporary Treatment and Monitoring Facility in The Manila Times College of Subic, Inc.,” he said.

Efforts are also being made to accommodate and better serve patients with COVID-19, Roque said.

“On treatment, we have set up a One Hospital Command to better serve patients in need of hospitalization. Medical facilities have likewise given to increase its dedicated beds COVID-19 after the President directed the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to settle its obligation with hospitals while mainstreaming telemedicine in local government units,” he said.

“A total of 136 healthcare workers from the Visayas and Mindanao have been deployed to different facilities in Metro Manila,” he added.

Roque also pointed out that the Philippines is the third highest in vaccine rollout in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with 1.2 million doses administered.

“On vaccination, we have reached the one million mark in terms of total COVID-19 vaccines administered,” he said.

Roque reminded critics that the spike in COVID-19 cases is not only happening in the Philippines but in other countries as well.

“Critics and the detractors of the Administration have always something to say. It is worth mentioning that the increase in the number of cases is seen not only in the Philippines, but it is reflected worldwide as per World Health Organization Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe,” he said.

He, however, acknowledged that much more can be done to ramp up efforts to respond to the prevailing public health crisis.

“We call on all sectors to unite and help the government in putting an end to this dreadful pandemic,” he said.

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.

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