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Nationwide round-up (03/21/21)

Health dep’t clarifies vaccine procurement rules not yet final

THE Department of Health (DoH) on Sunday clarified that the administrative order relating to the coronavirus vaccination law is not yet final after getting backlash over proposed restrictions on which companies that can procure doses. The DoH said it is committed to providing equitable access to vaccines and following the prioritization criteria. It also said the development of the implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Law “is guided by the principles of equal respect, national equity and legitimacy,” following the values framework of the World Health Organization. It also said that any provision perceived to discriminate against any sector “is not considered in any policy, guideline, protocol that shall be issued by this government.” The department said the current draft includes recommendations from various stakeholders. “The DoH together with the government agencies composing the Vaccine Cluster of the National Task Force against COVID-19, as provided for by the law, are still in the process of reconciling the proposed provisions with other existing laws and guidelines,” it said. Senator Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, in a statement on Saturday citing the draft rules, called out the DoH and the national task force for blocking companies engaged in tobacco, milk, sugar, and soft drinks, among others, from buying vaccines for their workers. Under Section 5 of the proposed administrative order, procurement of vaccines by private entities shall be in coordination with the government through a multi-party agreement. The Health department and the task force will also review the requests of private firms for vaccine procurement to ensure that they are not related to the tobacco industry and other industries in conflict with public health. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Voter registration hours shortened due to rising COVID cases

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Saturday announced it will shorten voter registration hours due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases. In a statement, the poll body said the new schedule is in line with a memo released by the President last week, which called for a 30% to 50% operational capacity for government offices and corporations. From Mar. 22 to Apr. 4, voter registration processing will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m, Mondays to Thursdays. Comelec offices are disinfected on Fridays. Issuance of a voter’s certification will be until 5 p.m., the Comelec said. The registration schedule used to be Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voter registration for next year’s national and local elections will be until Sept. 30. — Gillian M. Cortez

Justice department lockdown could be extended as more COVID cases recorded

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said the current lockdown of the department’s main office in Manila could be extended after 17 more workers tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Department of Justice now has 45 active cases. “We may have to extend the temporary lockdown of the DoJ premises unless the rising transmission rate is arrested,” Mr. Guevarra told reporters on Friday. He earlier placed the DoJ on a temporary lockdown until Mar. 23 after 33 COVID-19 cases were confirmed among its personnel from Tuesday to Friday. Mr. Guevarra further said that he is “getting alarmed” with the surge of COVID-19 positive cases in their office. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, which is adjacent to the DoJ office, will hold an on-site flag ceremony on Monday as it will be Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta’s last. The high court’s top magistrate is retiring on Mar. 27. The Supreme Court announced on Saturday that the ceremony will push through on Monday “under very strict health protocols” and limited participants. “Only incumbent Justices, Chiefs of Offices, the Office of the Chief Justice, and officers of the SC Association of Lawyers Employees and (the) SC Employees Association are allowed to physically attend the ceremony,” it said. The ceremony will be streamed live on the SC website (sc.judiciary.gov.ph) and on its YouTube channel. The SC has recorded a total of 37 COVID-19 cases as of Mar. 19. It has been on a 50% on-site workforce arrangement since Mar. 14. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

Solon optimistic of Senate support on charter change

THE head of the House of Representatives’ charter change panel said he is optimistic that the proposed economic amendments to the Constitution will garner support from the Senate. In a mobile message to BusinessWorld on Sunday, AKO BICOL Party-list Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr., committee on constitutional amendments chair, said he knows that some senators support only changes relating to economic provisions. “Malaki ang pag asa sa Senado (There is a big chance in the senate) because I don’t think they can turn a blind eye on this meaningful constitutional reform that will help stimulate economic growth and bring more opportunities to our countrymen,” he said. Last week, Deputy Speaker Rufus B. Rodriquez said he is confident that senators will tackle the proposed amendments once the lower house solons pass the measure and transmit it to the upper chamber. He added the amendments can be passed within the year. Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 was approved by the committee last January and is currently undergoing debates in the plenary. The proposed measure will insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to specific provisions of the constitution concerning economic matters. Debates will resume when Congress finishes its recess on May 17. Congress takes a break starting Mar. 25. Mr. Garbin said House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco maintains his goal of passing RBH 2 and transmitting it to the Senate by the end of May. “Our timeline as set by the Speaker is to put it on a vote on third reading before the end of the month of May. Meaning, we will transmit the same to the Senate before Sine die adjournment,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez

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