Reduced physical distancing in public transport based on science, says DOTr exec

Published September 14, 2020 9:09am
Updated September 14, 2020 12:15pm

MANILA, Philippines —

The implementation of reduced physical distancing in public transport amid the COVID-19 pandemic is based on studies of experts in railways and medical fields, according to a Department of Transportation (DOTr) official on Monday.

Reduced physical distancing between passengers in public transportation — from a meter to 0.75 meter — takes effect on Monday amid criticisms including from Vice President Leni Robredo, who questioned its basis.

“Pinagbasehan po namin dito 'yung pag-aaral ng ibang eksperto, katulad po sa train 'yung International Union of Railways, na nakikita na hindi naman ganun kailangan talagang kalaki ang distansya,” said DOTr Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon in an interview on Unang Balita.

Citing medical experts, Tuazon pointed out that the transmission rate can still be reduced to 94-95% with the observance of health protocols such as wearing of face mask and face shield, as well as regular disinfection.

“Actually po kung titignan niyo 'yung mga datos ngayon, ang Pilipinas na lang ang nagpapatupad ng one-meter distancing sa mga railways natin,” he said.

In a separate interview, Tuazon said the study of the International Union of Railways looked into the risk of catching COVID-19 on public transportation.

“Nakita po nila na hindi po sa public transportation, hindi po sa railway system nagmumula ang transmission o hindi po ito ang vector for transmission ng COVID-19,” he said at the Laging Handa briefing.

“Makikita po rin sa datos na from the time nag-relax po ‘yung mga bansa na ‘yan, at tinanggal na po nila ‘yung social distancing o binawasan nila ‘yung social distancing sa kanilang rail sector at tsaka sa iba pang transport sectors, makikita po na actually bumaba po ang mga COVID cases nitong mga bayan na’to.”

Tuazon also said the easing of physical distancing rules was to address commuters’ woes.

“Nagmula po ang request na iyan sa ating mga mamamayan,” he said.

“Matagal na pong hinihingi na tulungan natin ang pagbubukas ng ekonomiya sa pagbubukas din ng ating public transport para naman po makapunta sa kanilang mga trabaho ang ating mga mamamayan,” he added.

Based on the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO), a distance of at least one meter should be observed to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

However, Tuazon said the one-meter distance was based on a 1980s study.

According to the DOTr, the distance between passengers could be further reduced to 0.5 meter after two weeks and to 0.3 meter after another two weeks. The DOTR said this is to increase ridership in public transportation.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a member of the government policy-making task force in addressing the pandemic, said he prefers the old one-meter distance between passengers, but added that reducing the distance is a "collective decision."


"Personally, I would like to abide by the one-meter standard of physical distancing. If we can actually provide more transport to our people rather than reducing the distance," Año told ANC.

Transport group Alliance of Concerned Transport Organizations (ACTO) also slammed the DOTr's move as it once again urged the government to allow all public transportation modes to resume operations first to accommodate all commuters before resorting to reducing physical distancing standards.

But according to Tuazon, the DOTr is already considering this suggestion. “Nandoon na rin po kami, nakikita po namin ‘yun. Naririnig po namin 'yun. Ginagawa na po namin 'yan,” he said.

Tuazon said the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board recently allowed additional 1,159 traditional public utility jeepneys to ply 28 routes in the National Capital Region.

ACTO president Efren de Luna noted that only 30% of the additional jeepneys allowed can operate because most drivers already went back to provinces due to the financial impact of the suspension of operations.

Aside from jeepneys, De Luna said all UV Express units should be allowed to return to operation, pointing out that 90% of them are still suspended amid the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuazon said the resumption of public transportation is being done in phases.

Meanwhile, on the first day of implementation of reduced physical distancing protocol, some buses and jeepneys still observed the one-meter physical distancing between passengers as drivers and conductors did not know how to measure the 0.75 meter new physical distancing standard.   —with Virgil Lopez/KBK, GMA News

Duterte approves raps vs. Morales, execs over PhilHealth mess

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendations of a task force to file criminal and administrative charges against resigned Philippine Health Insurance Corp. Ricardo Morales and several other executives in connection with irregularities in the state insurer.

No less than Duterte read the task force's recommendations on Monday night in a briefing with members of the Cabinet.
"I'm sorry for them but they will have to undergo trial," Duterte said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President approved the recommendations of the task force on PhilHealth.
Among those who will be charged criminally and administratively are Morales, Senior Vice President (SVP) Jovita Aragona, Officer in Charge Calixto Gabuya Jr., SVP Renato Limsiaco Jr., SVP Israel Pargas, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Arnel de Jesus, and Division Chief Bobby Crisostomo.

Morales, De Jesus, Limsiaco and Pargas were among those who were recommended to be charged by the Senate following its inquiry into irregularities in the PhilHealth.

The Senate also recommended charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque. He was not among those recommended to be charged by the task force.

A whistle blower tagged Duque as "the godfather" of the PhilHealth mafia, an allegation Duque had denied.
Duterte in a briefing publicly told Duque not to resign despite the recommendation made by the Senate.
On a number of occasions, Duterte said he would not tolerate "a whiff of corruption" in his government.
The Department of Justice said the task force submitted its report to Duterte earlier on Monday.

The specific recommendations were as follows:

The filing of criminal charges against the following persons in relation to various ICT procurement including the concealment of important information in relation thereto, violation of Section 3A, Republic Act 3019 against Aragona, Gabuya, and Crisostomo;

The filing of charges over violation of Section 3A, Republic Act 3019 against Morales, Aragona, and Gabuya;

The filing of charges over violation of Section 3G, Republic Act 3019 against Morales, Aragona, Gabuya, and PRO-NCR personnel;

The filing of charges over violation of Article 213 of the Revised Penal Code against Morales, Aragona, and Gabuya;

The filing of charges in relation to the disbursement of Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) funds prior to the effectivity of the pertinent circular and malversation of public funds of property against Morales and Limsiaco Jr.;

The filing of charges over violation of Section 3A, Republic Act 3019 against Morales, De Jesus, Limsiaco, and Pargas;

The filing of charges in relation to the release of IRM funds despite the lack of sufficient standards of implementation against Pargas;

The filing of charges in relation to the non-withholding taxes of the IRM fund disbursement, violation of Section 251, 255, 272 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) as well as the violation of Republic Act 1061 against Morales and Limsiaco

The filing of charges for violation of Section 256 of the NIRC against PhilHealth Corp.

Raps were also urged against Morales, De Jesus, Aragona, Limsiaco, Gabuya, and Crisostomo for their dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, falsification of official document, disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines and to the Filipino, the inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties, and of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

“The filing of administrative charges against the following persons in relation to the above described action or omission is likewise recommended,” the report read.

Meanwhile, the task force urged Duterte to “strongly admonish and remind” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other ex-officio members of the PhilHealth board of the “grave consequences of action or inaction.”

A whistleblower earlier alleged that the PhilHealth executive committee pocketed some P15 billion in funds through several fraudulent schemes.
Morales resigned amid controversies hounding the state health insurer.  -NB, GMA News





Duterte 'cleared' Duque of wrongdoing in PhilHealth mess, says Lacson

Tue, Sep 08, 2020 10:16 AM, By DONA MAGSINO,GMA News

MANILA, Philippines —President Rodrigo Duterte virtually "cleared" Health Secretary Francsico Duque III of any wrongdoing when he told him not to resign despite being implicated in the PhilHealth mess, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday.

"With his appointed chief investigator to his right and one of those being accused in the PhilHealth mess to his left, he cleared the accused of any wrongdoing. End of story," Lacson said on Twitter.

Lacson made several exposés on the questionable interim reimbursement mechanism of PhilHealth and the alleged overpricing of IT equipment during the Senate inquiry.

He was also one of the 14 senators who called for the resignation of Duque in April for the alleged failure of leadership in leading the country's COVID-19 pandemic response — a call that was brushed aside by the Cabinet official.

Last year, Lacson bared the possible conflict of interest on Duque's part in the PhilHealth's lease in his family property, and the state health insurer's alleged dealings with a company also owned by their family. Duque denied the allegations.

In a recorded address to the nation aired Monday night, Duterte assured Duque of his full trust and said the latter should not leave his post amid the latest PhilHealth controversies.

Duque, chair of the PhilHealth Board, thanked Duterte and opened up about his feelings about being accused in the "illegal and improper" implementation of the IRM.

Duque thanked Duterte and opened up about his feelings about being accused in the "illegal and improper" implementation of PhilHealth's interim reimbursement mechanism.

"'Yung mga pumirma, hindi naman sila ni-recommend for filing of the cases. 'Yung hindi pumirma, 'yun lang ang idinawit. Bakit naman ganon? Height of injustice, unfairness," Duque had said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Gueverra, who leads the inter-agency task force investigating the alleged PhilHealth irregularities, was also present during the briefing.

In a separate message, Lacson acknowledged that the executive is an independent branch of the government and is not bound by the Senate's findings in the PhilHealth mess.

"While the just adopted committee of the whole report contains recommendations involving the filing of charges against several philhealth officials including its chairman who is Sec. Duque, it bears watching how the DOJ-led task force will treat those findings and recommendations now that the President has virtually cleared Duque of any wrongdoing," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, on the other hand, said Duterte should take time to read the report and talk to senators regarding their findings.

"The President should talk to us and not just listen to the excuses. Better yet, [Executive Secretary] should have the President read the Senate report," Sotto said in a message.

The Senate adopted the Committee of the Whole's report on Monday, upholding that Duque and former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales, along with other executives, should face criminal and administrative charges.

The DOJ-led task force, meanwhile, is expected to submit its report to Duterte by September 14. —KBK, GMA News


House approves bill putting up economic zone next to Bulacan airport

Published September 10, 2020 1:46am

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading the measure seeking to establish an economic zone adjacent to the proposed New Manila International Airport (NMIA) in Bulacan.

In a vote of ayes and nays, the chamber approved House Bill 7575 which establishes the Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport, principally authored by Bulacan Representative Jonathan Sy-Alvarado.

According to him, the economic zone and freeport is expected to provide alternative areas for investment outside Metro Manila.

"It has the potential to boost economic activity in the area, provide more job opportunities to Bulakeños and the surrounding provinces, and improve the economic condition in the province," he added.

Once enacted into law, the Bulacan Ecozone will cover the NMIA, the Airport City to be established adjacent to the airport, and lands adjacent to Airport City as may be later determined.

The approval of the bill came after the House also approved on third reading House Bill 7507, which grants San Miguel Aerocity Inc., a subsidiary of San Miguel Holdings Corp., a franchise for the construction of the NMIA, amounting P735 billion.

The planned NMIA is expected to help to decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which has now reached overcapacity.

The project involves the construction, operation, and maintenance of a 2,500-hectare airport in Bulacan. The development includes a passenger terminal building with airside and landside facilities, an airport toll road, and four runways.
It includes an 8.4-kilometer tollway connecting the airport to the North Luzon Expressway in Marilao, Bulacan. -NB, GMA News


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