Romualdez pushes ‘new normal’ bill

Martin Romualdez
Romualdez: “Mga kaibigan, ang pamahalaan po ay patuloy na maglilingkod upang ipatupad nang maayos at mapayapa ang enhanced community quarantine at general community quarantine sa malaking parte ng ating bansa. Subalit kailangan po natin ng pakikipagtulungan ng ating mga kababayan. Ang bawat buhay po ay mahalaga. One death is too many. As representatives of our people, we are ready to work double time, overtime if need be, to save as many lives as possible.”

MAJORITY Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez joined House leaders in pushing for the passage a bill seeking to establish regulations for the new normal way of life in workplaces and public areas as the country continues to battle the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) when Congress resumes regular session on May 4.

“This is designed to preserve public order and safety.  But we need to do more.  We cannot allow our national health care system to be overwhelmed.  While coping with concomitant economic and social costs, we need to pursue strategic directions to flatten the so-called epidemiological curve of COVID-19.  Together, we can do more,” Romualdez, co-chairperson of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC), told the technical working group (TWG) meeting on the Peace and Order Cluster.

Romualdez, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte led  House leaders in filing the proposed ‘New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020,' as outlined in House Bill (HB) No. 6623, 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.

“Mga kaibigan, ang pamahalaan po ay patuloy na maglilingkod upang ipatupad nang maayos at mapayapa ang enhanced community quarantine at general community quarantine sa malaking parte ng ating bansa. Subalit kailangan po natin ng pakikipagtulungan ng ating mga kababayan. Ang bawat buhay po ay mahalaga.

One death is too many. As representatives of our people, we are ready to work double time, overtime if need be, to save as many lives as possible,” said Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules.

“Our mission is to fine-tune the policy guidelines of our law enforcement agencies in order to save lives. Hopefully, we can also identify if there are laws that need to be passed by Congress to institutionalize these policy reforms. Isa lang naman po ang gusto nating lahat: ang magligtas ng buhay ng kapwa Pilipino,” Romualdez stressed.

Aside from Romualdez, Cayetano and Villafuerte, HB 6623 was authored by Deputy Speakers Paolo Duterte and Loren Legarda; and Representatives Eric Yap of ACT-CIS party-list, Mike Defensor of Anakalusugan party-list, and Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan.

Villafuerte said the proposal seeks to provide a “whole-of-society” approach to the “new normal” way of life anchored on strict mandatory safety and 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.

Under HB 6623, the protocols under the “new normal” environment--where COVID-19 remains a health risk worldwide--will be in place for three years or earlier, depending on the official declaration by President Rodrigo  Duterte upon recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases  (IATF-EID) “that the prevailing guidelines of the World Health Organization (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 stated.

Villafuerte, a lead author of Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee that is monitoring RA 11469's implementation, bared that among the measures to be imposed in public places under HB 6623 are the mandatory wearing of masks, the availability of handwashing or sanitizing stations in public areas, temperature checks and physical distancing of at least one meter, but preferable two meters, in all 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.

For schools and other learning institutions, on-site classes, sports and other extracurricular activities shall remain suspended subject to consultation with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

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.

“The continuing community transmission of the virus in Metro Manila and in other communities across the country and the risks of an even more dangerous resurgence demand that the resumption of certain aspects of the country’s economic and social life be governed by standards and protocols that would simultaneously protect the vulnerable from the disease and prevent transmission from asymptomatic or untested carriers of the virus, while ensuring the restoration of livelihood opportunities and sources of income for all,” the bill states.

Under the bill, restaurants and other food service places may resume operations under a “new normal,” but initially only for take-out and delivery.

Buffets and salad bars would be prohibited once dine-in services are gradually introduced, two-meter distancing between diners should be strictly followed, and disposable or non-shareable menu booklets and cutlery should be used as much as possible.

In banks, supermarkets, malls and most commercial spaces, the entry of people will be limited at any given time, and online transactions and shopping services as well as cashless and contactless payments should be encouraged.

Salons, parlors and spas, once allowed to reopen, should strictly observe frequent handwashing, disinfecting and cleaning practices, including the sanitizing of scissors and other tools.

Applicable safety and distancing measures should also be applied in construction sites, industrial workplaces, offices, call centers, and other public spaces.

To promote online transactions, contactless payments and services, and facilitate contact tracing, the bill calls for the  fast-track and full  implementation of the  law on the establishment of a  national ID system along with the National Broadband program of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) as well as the proposed bill on e-government systems, which Villafuerte authored.

HB No. 6623 provides for the creation of a technical working group (TWG) composed of the Secretaries (or the duly authorized representatives) of the Departments of Interior and Local Government (DILG),  of Finance (DOF), of Trade and Industry (DTI), of Labor and Employment (DOLE); DICT; the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the head of the IATF-EID to craft its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) after it is signed into  law by the President.

The bill also imposes cash fines and/or prison terms on violators.

Under the bill, the Congressional Oversight Committee shall maintain oversight function over the implementation of this Act and shall monitor its implementation in LGUs across the country.