Solons want Malampaya funds used for public health infra

MANILA – A measure proposing the use of Malampaya funds as an additional source of funding to improve the quality of public healthcare, particularly health infrastructure, has been filed at the House of Representatives.

1-PACMAN party-list Reps. Eric Pineda and Mikee Romero, and Manila Teachers party-list Rep. Virgilio Lacson have filed House Bill 7800, or the proposed Public Health Infrastructure Act, which seeks to amend Presidential Decree 910, to enable Congress to allot a portion of the Malampaya funds to finance public health infrastructure projects.

During a virtual Kapihan ng Samahang Plaridel forum on Wednesday, Lacson stressed the need to provide financial support to strengthen the country’s healthcare system amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We recognize the current need to develop a resilient healthcare system. This pandemic should be a lesson learned to prioritize healthcare,” Lacson said.

Lacson said untapped funds from the Malampaya gas field can be a “source for healthcare” and assist many other Filipinos who are struggling with medical conditions.

Pineda, during the same forum, pointed out several lapses in the local health infrastructure, specifically how hospitals have been unable to keep up with global health best practices.

Pineda also noted that government debt has neared PHP9 trillion as of June, primarily due to pandemic-related loans.

“We have to look for alternative funds, not from loans or the private sector. We know that Malampaya earns PHP1 billion for the government annually. Right now, the best way to use these funds is to improve healthcare facilities and support healthcare workers. While there’s no vaccine, we must act immediately,” Pineda said.

Pineda said the Malampaya gas project proves the immense benefits of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in funding the nation’s development.

“That’s why projects like Malampaya are very important, while other developments take a back seat because of the pandemic. We need to save our countrymen first and have enough healthcare facilities for the infected. Developing more sources for natural gas can help,” Pineda said.

Lacson said the continuity of the Malampaya project, which nears its end in 2023, is crucial to help in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“Technology in exploration has developed over the years, and Malampaya could be extended depending on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision. If so, then it would be a great help to our fight against the pandemic and can help develop a good health system,” Lacson said.

Lacson said they are pushing for the immediate approval of the bill.

Department of Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire, for her part, said the bill can increase the budget to put up more healthcare facilities, especially in provincial regions that have limited hospitals and testing laboratories.

“We appreciate that this bill looks at our needs in the health sector and how to source funds to put up more infrastructure — not just in Metro Manila but other regions too. Hopefully, it will be passed so we can continue improving our capacity and be better prepared for future health challenges,” Vergeire said. (PNA)

Pro-people policies pushed to prevent K-shaped economic recovery

MANILA – The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is pushing for a set of pro-people economic policies dubbed as the “New Deal for the New Economy” to prevent an uneven K-shaped economic recovery.

In an aide memoire to the House leadership dated Oct. 20, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who also chairs the House’s economic stimulus and recovery cluster for the Defeat Covid-19 Committee, warned of a K-shaped economic recovery, where “the educated middle class and above recover, while the underskilled and underemployed suffer a decline in their socioeconomic status.”

“We can see that now. Mid-level professionals get to work from home. Service sector workers, especially in retail and janitorial services, were terminated. As we go digital, these sectors will probably rebound more slowly if at all,” Salceda said.

Salceda said the country faces an “evolve-or-die” situation, as the pandemic accelerated the shift towards a new global economic order where information and communication technology are the most highly prized commodity and channel, and where low-skilled, strictly-onsite work is “nearing obsolescence.”

Salceda has advised recently-installed Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to adopt a “New Deal for the New Economy” supported by solid fiscal standing to finance modern governance, a dynamic and resilient real economy, with pro-people and pro-countryside policies.

Salceda said comprehensive reforms will be made in the areas of energy, infrastructure, countryside investments, fiscal standing, modern national governance (including fighting red tape), green economy, agriculture, local governance modernization, healthcare, education, financial sector modernization, and digital economy competitiveness.

“There will be a new economy: it will be more digital, more global, more skills-based, and focused on value-added. We cannot escape it. We can only rewrite our national policies so that they bring a fairer deal to our people. We cannot change the global economy, but we can thrive in it, with the right policies,” Salceda said.

Salceda expressed hope that the aide memoire, containing 56 bills that would “chart a path towards a more modern economy”, would wisely counsel the “forward-thinking” Speaker.

“We will resume session on Nov. 16. That will be the first full session of Speaker Velasco. We will strive to pass all of these within 100 days,” Salceda said.

He argued that unless aggressive intermediate responses are made, the country would still see underemployment in the 25 percent level, and unemployment at 8 percent by the end of 2021.

“Many development goals, including child hunger and poverty, where the country has made significant progress over the past years, will have to be clawed back,” he said. (PNA)

PLDT to roll out more fiber lines nationwide

MORE FIBER LINES. A broadband service team works on PLDT’s fiber line in this undated photo. The PLDT on Wednesday (Oct. 21, 2020) announced plans to roll out more fiber lines in the next three to six months to meet the country’s growing demand for faster internet services. (PNA file photo)

MANILA – More households in different parts of the country will soon be able to avail of faster internet services through fiber-optic cables after telecommunications giant PLDT on Wednesday announced its plans to roll out more fiber lines and ports nationwide.

In a statement, Alfredo Panlilio, PLDT chief revenue officer, said the company will install more fiber lines and provide around 500,000 more ports in the next three to six months to meet the country’s rising demand for high-speed internet connectivity.

“Broadband connectivity is more important than ever, particularly in these pandemic times when more people are directed to work and study from home. That’s why PLDT is ramping up its capabilities to be able to serve more Filipinos nationwide,” Panlilio said.

He said the company has deployed more installation and repair teams in different parts of the country to implement the rollout.

“PLDT is rolling out more fiber, more ports in more parts of the Philippines than it has ever done before because we want to connect as many Filipino families as we possibly can to our fiber network,” Panlilio said.

Menardo Jimenez Jr., PLDT senior vice president for PLDT Home, said the company’s network service teams are now more capable of adapting to the challenges brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic-related restrictions.

“PLDT’s network service teams have worked out how to operate under pandemic conditions and have been able to steadily ramp up their installation capacity,” Jimenez said.

He noted that the pandemic has resulted in a “notable” spike of service upgrade and new installation requests.

“The pandemic has compelled people to redesign life at home. Many of these changes involve greater use of the internet and digital solutions to make work, study, and leisure at home more efficient and enjoyable,” Jimenez said.

To date, the company has also invested in the modernization of its overseas cable systems and domestic fiber transport network which includes the company’s data centers.

Its fiber-optic network grew 19 percent for the last 10 months and stretches to about 382,500 kilometers. (PNA)

AFP units, offices to forego Christmas parties this year

MANILA – In consideration of all Filipinos severely affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be foregoing the traditional Christmas parties this year.

The order was issued by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay to all unit commanders and chiefs of offices throughout the country, military spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement Wednesday.

“Defer Christmas parties and similar celebrations as an austerity measure and as a gesture of sensitivity to our countrymen. Fellow Filipinos here and abroad have been suffering and this is the least we can do to commiserate with the people we have sworn to secure and serve especially in this time of crisis,” Arevalo, quoting Gapay’s order, said.

Instead, the units will allocate the money intended for Christmas revelries to be merged with the funds assigned to address the Covid-19 requirements of their personnel.

“This ban on all Christmas festivities also conforms with the health protocols that proscribes mass gatherings which the AFP strictly enforces and observes,” Arevalo said. (PNA)

China-funded Estrella-Pantaleon bridge completion seen in 2021

CHINA-FUNDED PROJECT. Photo shows the ongoing construction of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge which connects Mandaluyong City and Makati City. The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Wednesday (Oct. 21, 2020) said the construction is expected to be completed in the “early half of 2021”. (Photo courtesy of Chinese Embassy)

MANILA — The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Wednesday said the construction of the China-funded Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge is expected to be completed in the “early half of 2021”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic will not push back the completion dates of the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge projects. The contractor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) overcomes tremendous difficulties to ensure completion on schedule,” it said in a statement sent to reporters.

Once completed, the 506-meter bridge would have four lanes connecting Estrella, Makati City to Barangka Drive in Mandaluyong City and is seen to accommodate an average of 50,000 vehicles daily.

The Embassy emphasized that the construction of the bridge is financed by a grant from the government of China.

Citing Public Works and Highways chief Mark Villar, it added that only 25 percent of the project’s workers are Chinese nationals, while 75 percent are Filipinos.

“The contractor, China Road and Bridge is still hiring more local workers for the project, though it is a bit difficult to recruit enough and qualified local employees amid under GCQ,” it said.

READ: Give China ‘leeway’ to hire workers for funded projects: Palace

The clarification comes after some lawmakers questioned the number of Chinese nationals employed for the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge and Binondo-Intramuros Bridge construction projects, appealing to prioritize Filipino nationals when hiring.

“The Chinese employees are mostly program managers, engineers, and technicians, whose job could not be done by Filipino workers given the technical requirements. All the Chinese employees have obtained work permits from the Department of Labor and Employment,” the Embassy said.

The Embassy underscored that China stands ready to “further synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and Build, Build, Build program” as well as to accelerate the implementation of cooperation projects between the two nations.

“The Philippines is a friendly close neighbor to China. Both China and the Philippines have been striving for economic development and social progress. China stands ready to further synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and Build, Build, Build program and accelerate the implementation of cooperation projects to stimulate economic recovery and growth of the Philippines,” it said. (PNA)

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