Romualdez new normal Act to defeat COVID

Alan Peter Cayetano & Martin Romualdez
FIGHT COVID-19 AS ONE -- House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (center) and House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez (6th left) flash the one sign in vs COVID-19 together with Deputy Speakers, Deputy Majority Leaders and Minority Leaders shortly after they approved on 3rd reading the proposed P162 billion roadmap for economic recovery. Photo by VER NOVENO
Martin Romualdez

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Tuesday said the New Normal Act is designed to defeat the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic by establishing policies and regulations for the new normal way of life in workplaces and public areas such as the mandatory wearing of face masks in public spaces and workplaces and observance of physical and social distancing.

Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, stressed this after the House of Representatives on Monday with 242 affirmative votes approved House Bill 6864 or “An Act Establishing Public Health and Environmental Standards and Safeguards for the Better Normal in the Workplace, Public Spaces and Communities Toward a Sustainable Recovery from the Coronavirus Disease-19 Pandemic.”

“We seek to lay the groundwork that will expedite our people's adaptation to the demands of the new normal life,” said Romualdez following the approval of the bill upon the motion of House Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Wee Palma ll, Romualdez’s main Deputy Floor Leader and acknowledged by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano as the workhorse of the House Plenary.

The measure promotes “contact-less” payment mechanisms and mandates the wearing of face masks, earloop masks, indigenous, reusable or do-it-yourself masks, face shields, handkerchiefs, or such other protective materials when in the workplace, public places, and communities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The bill provides that owners, managers, or administrators of public spaces and workplaces shall likewise establish handwashing facilities or sanitizing stations and shall monitor the temperature of those visiting their respective areas.

HB 6864 also mandates physical distancing of at least one meter between individuals whenever in public spaces and in the workplace.

Romualdez, President of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD), said the bill aims to prepare and educate Filipinos for life after the lifting of the restrictions imposed by the national government and local government units (LGUs) to contain the spread of COVID-19 through new norms of social or physical distancing and safety measures in government and private offices, schools, commercial establishments and other public spaces.

“As soon as we adapt to the new normal, businesses can resume operations and workers can go back to their jobs without fear of contracting the dreaded coronavirus. Through physical distancing and other stringent safety and health protocols, we can also keep our families safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. We have no choice but to adapt to the new normal. The soonest time possible, the better,” Romualdez explained.

“We have to act decisively. Not tomorrow, but today. We cannot be kept hostage in our homes forever in this age of pandemic,” Romualdez pointed out.

The principal authors of HB 6864 are Cayetano, Romualdez, Deputy Speakers LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Paolo “Pulong” Duterte of Davao City, and Loren Legarda of Antique, and Reps. Mike Defensor of Anakalusugan, Eric Yap of ACT-CIS party-list group, and Jonathan Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan.

Villafuerte said the new legislation is designed to gear up Filipinos for the “new normal” way of life with the continued threat of COVID-19.

“Helping attune the nation to the new norms of life amid the continuing health risk posed by COVID-19 in the months or years ahead should top the concerns of legislators,” Villafuerte said, especially now that the World Health Organization (WHO) itself has declared that this lethal virus will “be with us for a long time” and that an effective vaccine against it might only be available in at least a year yet.

“We want COVID-19 to go away sooner than later, of course,” Villafuerte said, “but that scenario doesn’t seem likely to happen. Hence, it behooves us, lawmakers in both Chambers to help our people prepare for, and adapt, to the new normal life of continued physical distancing plus other stringent safety and health protocols in order to keep us safe, save lives and prevent the further spread of this deadly virus in our communities.”

Villafuerte noted that over 190 other lawmakers have sponsored House Bill (HB) No. 6864 providing for a “whole-of-society” approach to the “new normal” way of life—anchored on strict mandatory safety and social or physical distancing protocols—once containment measures are lifted and economic and social activities are somewhat back in Metro
Manila and the rest of the country.

The proposed ‘New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020,' as outlined in HB No. 6864, aims to prepare and educate Filipinos for life after the lifting of the quarantine or containment restrictions that were imposed separately by the national government and local government units (LGUs) in March, through new norms of social or physical distancing and safety measures in government and private offices, schools, commercial establishments and other public spaces.

In public transportation, physical distancing also applies during queueing for tickets and in the interiors of vehicles. Contactless payment mechanisms will be implemented, and passengers will be required to wash their hands or sanitize before boarding public utility vehicles (PUVs).

The operation of motorcycle taxis will remain suspended to prevent the spread of the virus through the use of common helmets and close contact between drivers and their passengers.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is tasked to develop, implement and promote a flexible learning program for K-12 students in all public and private schools, taking into consideration the capability of the school and its teachers in delivering such program, and the accessibility of learning materials, either physical or electronic, to the students.

The bill requires the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to monitor the implementation of flexible learning programs for all higher education institutions, state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local colleges and universities (LCUs).

The bill mandates all forms of private commercial and industrial workspaces and businesses to submit a Management Plan to the concerned LGU which shall determine the said business’s compliance with the necessary safeguards and the Universal Safety Measures in the bill.

Online learning platforms will, in the meantime, be the primary mode of learning for students in all public and private schools. Once on-site classes gradually resume, the number of classes should be reduced and staggered class days should be implemented to enable students and teachers to comply with physical distancing protocols and other safety measures.

Under the bill, the protocols under this ‘new normal’ environment—where COVID-19 remains as a health risk worldwide—will be in place for three years or earlier, depending on the official declaration by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte upon recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases “that the prevailing guidelines of the WHO and the consensus of the international medical community conclusively show that a viable vaccine has contained or eradicated Covid-19.”

“Guided foremost by the principles of protecting the most vulnerable, ensuring health and safety for all, guaranteeing respect for human rights, and facilitating the inclusive and holistic economic well-being of all sectors and industries, this proposed bill envisions a whole-of-society approach in ushering a hopeful yet well-planned path towards “the new normal,” the bill states.