Romualdez thanks, bares protection for COVID-19 frontliners

Martin Romualdez

“WE have to provide protection for all our health workers and professionals and extend COVID-19 special risk allowance to them. To all in the frontline services, thank you for your heroic and dedicated service to the Filipino people and the nation. 

To all my colleagues who showed solidarity and responded to President Duterte’s decisive action to defeat COVID-19, thank you.”

Thus House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said on Tuesday as he revealed public and private health personnel who may contract the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) while in the line of duty will receive P100,000 in compensation and P1 million to those who may die and around 18 million low income households will get P5,000 to P8,000 monthly subsidy for two months under a Congress-approved bill that will be signed into law by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte.

Romualdez, who chairs the powerful House committee on rules, who moved for the adoption of the Senate version of “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020" before the House of Representatives adjourned its special session at 3:24 a.m. Tuesday to make this immediately available for President Duterte’s signature.

"We have been informed that the House Bill 6616 is in concurrence with the provisions of Senate Bill 1418. In accordance with the rules, I move to adopt Senate Bill (SB) No. 1418 as an amendment to HB No. 6616," Romualdez told his colleagues on his motion in the plenary. Sen. Pia Cayetano said President Duterte will have authorized power to realign an estimated P275 billion that includes P175 billion available cash and P100 billion fund from different national government agencies' accounts under the P4.1 trillion national budget to respond to health an economic threats brought by the pandemic.

The House of Representatives approved its own version ahead of the Senate until the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was forced to adopt the Upper Chamber’s version due to lack of material time.

Aside from P100,000 compensation, the loved ones of infected public and private health workers who may die from the dreaded virus will get P1 million compensation.

Under the measure, the P5,000 to P8,000 monthly subsidy for two months for 18 million low-income families shall be computed based on the prevailing regional minimum rates.

Martin Romualdez

Romualdez said Congress also empowers President Duterte to expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and prompt testing by public and designated private institutions for persons under investigation (PUMs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs) and the compulsory and immediate isolation and treatment of patients.

On Sunday, Romualdez and Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez declared that Tacloban City is now prepared and very capable to handle screening for COVID-19 and only awaiting Health Sec. Francisco Duque III’s authority for its health officials to begin the examination.

“The lack of testing centers may have caused the underreporting of COVID-19 cases and has been clogging up our already overloaded hospitals,” the Romualdez couple pointed out.

“Help us and we will help ourselves. Tacloban City with the help of Mayor Alfred Romualdez has done its necessary inventory of assets, including supplies, manpower, laboratory and logistical needs.  We are prepared and capable to handle COVID-19 screening,” they stressed.

Based on the Senate and House versions, both seek to declare the existence of a national emergency and to authorize President Duterte for "only three months, unless extended by Congress" to exercise "necessary" and "temporary emergency" powers to deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic crisis.

But the special powers granted may be withdrawn sooner through concurrent resolution of Congress or ended by Presidential Proclamation.

OVERSIGHT

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has assured the public that Congress would be exercising its oversight functions to ensure that all acts performed by the Duterte administration are within the bounds of the special but limited powers—and with restrictions—that the Congress has vested in President Duterte so his government could best deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Villafuerte, the principal sponsor of the House version of the Bayanihan to Heal as One bill that was passed, pointed out that this measure requires the President to submit monthly reports to the Congress on all acts carried out by the Executive Department in the preceding month, in pursuit of government efforts to contain the spread of the virus and attend to infected people and those they have had contact with.

For this purpose, the Camarines Sur lawmaker said “the special powers measure approved early Tuesday by both Chambers of the Congress provides for the creation of an oversight committee to determine whether such acts, orders, rules and regulations fall within the restrictions on such special powers, as provided in the enrolled bill,” for the government to respond to the lethal virus, known as COVID-19. 

Villafuerte, a member of the Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee that was created by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano before the end of the online special session, cited the Legislature’s oversight powers even as he assured lawmakers and the public there will be no abuse of the special powers granted to President Duterte under the proposed law. 3 In his sponsorship speech on Monday, Villafuerte explained that the proposed law would give the Chief Executive the needed “flexibility” to mobilize funds to provide relief to some 18 million Filipino households most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and for the treatment of infected persons and those who had been exposed to them.

During the period of interpellation, Villafuerte said the peaceful implementation of martial law in Mindanao, where no abuses were reported,  illustrates President Duterte's untarnished record in carrying out special powers granted to him by the Congress. He pointed out when interpellated by Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, who chairs the House committee on public accounts, that in the two-and-a-half years that military rule was implemented in Mindanao, no incidence of corruption or abuse by the government was ever reported.

President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017, when terrorists from the Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate Maute group laid siege to Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.