Bong Go reminds concerned agencies to be transparent and accountable to the public by showing lists of beneficiaries of COVID-19 assistance programs to ensure non-duplication of recipients

With reports coming out about some beneficiaries receiving COVID-19 emergency financial assistance multiple times, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Wednesday, May 20, asked concerned government agencies about the measures they have been implementing to address the issue.

The government presently provides various cash assistance through the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Social Amelioration Program; the Small Business Wage Subsidy program for employees of micro, small and medium enterprises of Department of Finance through the Social Security System; or the Department of Labor and Employment’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program.

In a hearing of the Senate acting as the Committee of the Whole with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, Go inquired on what steps the DSWD has undertaken to prevent the distribution of assistance to the same beneficiary multiple times.

“Ano po ang mga ginagawang hakbang ng DSWD at iba pang ahensya para hindi na maulit itong duplikasyon? … (I)mportante mapunta talaga sa mahirap, poorest of the poor, mga nangangailangan,” he said.

Go cited the possibility of some individuals receiving assistance multiple times, considering that receipt of assistance under one program bars the beneficiary from receiving further from the other programs.

Go then suggested the creation of an online portal containing the lists of eligible household beneficiaries of the various government assistance for purposes of transparency.

“Para na rin po malaman sino ba talaga ang mga qualified at para maiwasan na magkadoble-doble po ang nare-receive na subsidy,” Go mentioned.

In response to Go, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that there is a data-sharing agreement between DSWD, Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of the Executive Secretary and DOLE to avoid such duplication. Senate President Vicente Sotto III also suggested that the names of beneficiaries be posted on a website for greater transparency.

“Every time we pay somebody, agad binibigyan ang DSWD ng listahan para hindi na mabigyan ulit,” Bello said.

Go commended the departments for their efforts but urged them further to make sure that the duplication of assistance does not happen again. He also stressed the need for the country to finally implement the Philippine Identification System which will greatly help the government’s efforts in distributing assistance to all intended beneficiaries during these times.

“Sa tingin ko, panahon na po para sa National ID system,” Go said. “Dahil hirap po tayo ngayon, ang daming dumodoble, ang daming hindi nakatatanggap (ng ayuda).”

Meanwhile, Go commended those individuals who returned COVID-19 emergency financial aid that they have received for having previously received assistance through another program, saying that honesty and kindheartedness are alive amid the pandemic.

“Kino-commend ko po ang mga Pilipino na very honest na binabalik nila ang natatanggap nilang doble,” Go said.

Go cited that these programs were created to assist identified workers from specified sectors who have been adversely affected by the pandemic — from the poorest of the poor, vulnerable groups, displaced workers, and employees of micro, small and medium enterprises.

“For every honest Filipino, another Filipino family which needs help is saved. Kaya kung nakatanggap po kayo ng dobleng ayuda, pakiusap ko lang po na ibalik ninyo ang sobra o nadoble. Honesty will go a long way. The more we help each other, the faster we will overcome this crisis caused by COVID-19” Go said in past statements.

He also urged agencies to account for every peso distributed and spent, adding that utmost transparency is important especially now that the government is prioritizing the distribution of various forms of assistance to affected Filipinos.

“Sa panahon ngayon, tanging konsensya talaga ang gabay ng lahat para walang masayang sa kaban ng bayan. Gawin po natin ang tama at siguraduhing matulungan lahat ng nangangailangan. In this time of crisis, every peso must be accounted for,” Go said previously.

Pilot implementation of Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program conducted as first batch of beneficiaries assisted in going back to Leyte

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go joined member-officials of the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) Council in sending off beneficiaries who qualified for the first pilot roll out on Wednesday, May 20.

There were 111 beneficiaries, roughly comprised of 85 families, who embarked on their journey back to Leyte. These beneficiaries are composed of mostly heads of their families, and are part of the 3,371 identified applicants who expressed intent to go back to their homes in various municipalities in the province of Leyte.

“Natutuwa ako na ngayong araw ay nasimulan na natin ang pilot testing ng BP2 Program. Nakikita natin ang efficiency ng implementasyon ng programang ito na ating inihahandog para sa mga Pilipino. May political will ang ating gobyerno… importante na nasimulan na natin ito,” Go said.

“Tinitingnan din natin sa pilot testing na ito kung ano pa ang dapat nating i-improve sa BP2 program nang para sa gayon ay magiging mas matagumpay ito sa mga susunod na mga rollout natin sa iba’t iba pang parte ng bansa,” the Senator added.

Go, who is the proponent of the BP2 program, said that this initiative aims to give hope for a better future for Filipinos, especially after the current health crisis caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Last May 6, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order 114, institutionalizing the program and creating an inter-agency council to craft policies and programs and oversee their implementation.

“Pag-asa ang gusto nating ibigay sa ating mga kababayang Pilipino sa pagsisimula ulit nila sa probinsya. Tulungan natin sila para mabigyan ng pag-asa. Walang pilitan ito. Ang lahat ng aalis ngayon at uuwi sa probinsya ay kusang nagboluntaryo,” Go explained.

Before the BP2 beneficiaries of the roll out left for Leyte, their documents and health clearances were first processed and evaluated by concerned government agencies. Booths were set up where the National Housing Authority released boarding passes; Department of Health undertook the required PCR test for COVID-19 and presented their local health clearances; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development released transportation and financial allowance and other forms of assistance.

In addition, the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board prepared the five units of buses that were bound for Leyte.

“Kumpleto ang proseso na ginagawa ng ating mga ahensya. Sinisigurado natin na cleared silang umalis mula sa Manila, makakalagpas sa mga checkpoints, at maayos ang kanilang pagdating sa probinsya,” Go said.

The Office of Senator Bong Go also provided food packs, protective masks, and other forms of assistance to the beneficiaries.

The Department of Agriculture also provided beneficiaries with processed agricultural products as well as starter kits for backyard planting.

The DSWD will also immediately provide food packs upon arrival to their province. A livelihood grant will also be given within fifteen days from arrival. The Department of Interior and Local Government has also coordinated with the receiving local government unit to ensure that needed support and assistance will be provided when they arrive in their homes.

“Pagdating naman nila roon, handa rin ang mga ahensyang bigyan sila ng dagdag na ayuda at tulong para sa kanilang magiging kabuhayan, pabahay, trabaho, edukasyon, pagkain, kalusugan at iba pa,” he added.

On the other hand, preparations are also underway for the other pilot testings to other provinces. The target number of Filipinos who will go home to the provinces will be around 100-300 for every roll out, depending on the capacity of the receiving LGUs. Health protocols will be followed and similar government assistance shall be provided for every roll out.

“Pinili natin ang probinsya ng Leyte bilang unang destinasyon dahil sila ang may pinakamataas na numero ng aplikante,” he said, adding that the provincial government of Leyte was also one of the first to signify its readiness to accept returning residents.

The other nine provinces that have the highest number of registered beneficiaries are Samar, Negros Occidental, Zamboanga del Norte, Southern Leyte, Bohol, Northern Samar, Camarines Sur, Pangasinan and Masbate.

“Trabaho na ng gobyerno kung papaano kayo pauuwiin. Bibigyan kayo ng transportation at pagkain. I-eendorse kayo sa regional offices para i-assess kung ano pang kabuhayan na pwede ninyong gawin,” he said.

“Basta ang gobyerno gagawin ang trabahong ito para matulungan ang mga Pilipinong interesado nang umuwi sa probinsya. Ang mga tao naman, gagawin o pag-iisipan nalang nila ay kung lilipat sila,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a live interview during the event, Go cited the political will of President Rodrigo Duterte as an important factor in ensuring the program’s success.

“Ako po, bilang mambabatas, isa akong proponent na nagpropose kay Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ng programang ito. May mga nagsasabi po na may katulad na programa na na ginawa dati pa ngunit hindi nagtagumpay. Ang sabi ko, ngayon may political will na i-implementa ang programang gaya nito,” Go said.

“Sa katunayan, pinirmahan agad ni Pangulong Duterte ang Executive Order 114. (Nagbuo agad ng council) composed of 17 departments and more. Nadagdagan pa po ang mga ahensya at magtutulungan lahat (para ma-utilize ng maayos) ang resources ng gobyerno para sa tagumpay ng programang ito,” he added.

In view of the current pandemic, Go also mentioned that more and more Filipinos in Metro Manila have been expressing their willingness to go back to their respective provinces and start their lives anew.

“Dati, walang gustong mag-implement dahil walang gustong umuwi noon. Ngayon, marami ang gustong umuwi dahil nadala o natagam na sa hirap na dulot ng krisis. Ngayon kasi, apektado sila at naipit sila sa sitwasyon dito. ‘Yung iba, stranded. Meron ding hindi nakatanggap ng ayuda dahil ang pamilya nila, sa probinsya nakalista,” he said.

“Kaya naman bilang isa ring probinsyano, hinihikayat ko ang iba pang mga Pilipino na ikonsidera na bumalik na sa probinsya. May mga programa pong inihanda ang gobyerno para sa inyo,” Go added.

Go emphasized that the program is voluntary. “Wala pong pilitan ito. Kung ayaw niyo, hindi kayo pipilitin ng gobyerno. Kung gusto niyo, matutulungan po kayo. Binibigyan kayo ni Pangulong Duterte ng bagong pag-asa.”

“Lahat naman po tayo gustong makabangon sa krisis na ito. Lahat tayo nagnanais ng bagong pag-asa para sa ating bayan. Magtulungan at magbayanihan po tayo. Tulad ng mensahe ni Pangulong Duterte, starting fresh in the provinces will give Filipinos HOPE for a better future after this COVID-19 crisis,” he said in previous statements.

Bong Go files bill that seeks to intensify contact tracing efforts, establish more sub-national testing laboratories nationwide

The public health emergency caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted gaps in the health care system that need to be addressed. In this light, Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has recently filed a bill seeking to strengthen the country’s efforts in disease surveillance and epidemiologic investigation.

Senate Bill 1528 filed by Go last week seeks to amend Republic Act 11332, also known as the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.”

Go said that the bill aims to enhance the country’s health care system in terms of disease surveillance and control, such as having better capabilities in conducting more testing and intensive contact tracing in times of pandemics.

“Over the course of this pandemic, marami tayong mga natutunan at nakita natin ang mga aspeto ng sistema na dapat mabigyan ng pansin. Nakita natin ang mga kailangan ayusin sa ating disease surveillance and control capabilities para gawing mas handa ang bansa sa anumang health crisis na darating,” Go said.

The Senator emphasized that this bill, if passed into law, will further capacitate national and local health units to conduct better contact tracing, testing, diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance of various diseases.

“In the long run, mai-improve natin ang ating medical preparedness and response to future health crises,” Go said, adding that by amending and enhancing the existing law, the measure can improve contact tracing efforts and disease surveillance during a health crisis.

To improve the surveillance of infectious diseases, health facilities, workplaces, schools, commercial establishments, as well as communities are mandated “to provide necessary information to authorized personnel of the DOH and other authorized agencies… in disease surveillance including contact tracing.”

Based on the proposed law, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be required to help in contact tracing and other necessary investigations.

“Malaking tulong ang ating mga uniformed personnel mula sa PNP at AFP hindi lang sa pag-maintain ng peace and order, pati rin sa pag-alaga at pagsuporta sa ating health experts at medical personnel sa pag-manage ng krisis na ito,” Go explained.

“Nakita po natin na naging maganda ang kinalabasan ng pakikipagtulungan ng ating health sector sa ating law enforcers at military. May kanya kanya po silang expertise na nung pinagsama ay naging mas maayos ang operasyon laban sa COVID-19,” he added.

Furthermore, Senator Go seeks to amend and enhance RA 11332 by establishing sub-national laboratories in all regional hospitals run by the Department of Health and allowing local government units to establish their own DOH-accredited laboratories and epidemiology and surveillance units, among others.

The bill also aims to further enhance public hospitals to have the capacity to undertake testing, diagnosis, control, and the prevention of infectious diseases.

“’Aside from contact tracing, ‘yung testing po talaga ay very crucial sa pag monitor ng disease activity sa ating population. Kailangan din natin ng mas maraming sub-national laboratories para mapabilis ang pag-identify ng mga pasyente at mas maalagaan o mapagaling ang sakit nila,” Go said.

As per latest information indicated in government’s official COVID-19 tracker website, the Philippines has 30 national laboratories that are capable of COVID-19 testing.

“Mabuti na naparami natin in the past two months ang ating mga sub-national laboratories. Pero ang 30 laboratories for 81 provinces ay kulang pa rin po. Huwag na natin antayin na may susunod na health crisis pa na dumating. Ngayon pa lang, paghandaan na po natin,” Go said.

To make the country better prepared in future pandemics, the bill also requires the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to formulate a National Public Health Emergency Strategy to address future public health emergencies.

This strategy shall provide for an integrated policy coordination and strategic direction with respect to all matters related to national public health and medical preparedness, and execution and deployment of national response before, during, and following public health emergencies.

“Nakita natin ngayon sa pandemya na talagang kailangan ng collaboration ng iba’t-ibang ahensya. This is why legislation is important in order to strengthen further the role of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases,” Go said.

Go’s proposed measure also seeks to hold liable those who are involved in prohibited acts during a health crisis, such as creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information on social media and other platforms. This includes spreading information clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar illegal acts.

Also prohibited under the proposed measure are several forms of “discriminating against health workers, infected and recovered persons such as promoting and encouraging stigma, inciting violence, subjecting them to profiling, detention, or verbal or physical harassment; and intentionally declaring or reporting false information on infectious diseases.”

Bong Go files bill mandating the establishment of quarantine facilities in every region of the country

As quarantine protocols and physical distancing measures are crucial in the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as well as other health emergencies, there is a need for the country to be more proactive in preparing for future possible pandemics.

In light of this, Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go filed Senate Bill No. 1259 or the “Mandatory Quarantine Facilities Act of 2020” which mandates the establishment of quarantine facilities in every region in the country strategically located near a Department of Health-managed public hospital.

“Let us learn from this COVID-19 experience. Ngayon palang, habang nilalabanan natin ang sakit na COVID-19, i-handa na rin natin ang bansa sa anumang krisis na maaaring dumating,” Go said.

The Senator explained that it is crucial for every locality or region to have its own quarantine sites to accommodate high-risk individuals suspected of having an infectious disease.

“Nararapat lamang po na maging proactive tayo at umpisahan nang maglatag ng mga measures na magsisiguro sa ating kahandaan sa mga darating pang krisis gaya nito,” he stressed.

In the explanatory note of his proposed measure, Go cites the World Health Organization guidelines and recommendations in combatting pandemics, stating that “isolating persons who have or may have been exposed to a serious contagious or infectious disease is a long-established public health strategy in order to prevent transmission.”

“This isolation mechanism should be part of the standard precautions that should be taken to prevent the spread of any infectious disease,” Go further states, adding that with the continuing emergence of infectious diseases, “there is a pressing need to establish quarantine facilities in the country.”

If passed into law, SB 1259 will establish quarantine facilities in every region designed for patients who are suspected to be infected or colonized with epidemiologically important pathogens that can be transmitted by airborne or droplet transmission or by physical contact.

The proposed quarantine facilities will also be fully equipped to include the needs of individuals who are quarantined, including adequate food, clothing, means of communication and competent medical care, among others.

To ensure the accessibility of the quarantine facilities to healthcare facilities, the bill proposes that their location are mandated to be easily accessible to a DOH hospital and strategically located to ensure the safety of the community. The location will be identified by the DOH in close coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways and local government units concerned.

Likewise, the DPWH, in coordination with LGUs, will be in charge of the construction of quarantine facilities, formulation of building specifications based on standards, issuances and other guidelines. Meanwhile, the DOH will be primarily responsible for the operation, supervision, and management of the quarantine facilities.

“Hangga’t wala pong bakunang nadidiskubre sa COVID-19, our fight against it continues. Kaya naman hindi po tayo dapat maging kampante sa paglaban sa virus na ito,” he said.

Go cited that the adverse socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis has shown weaknesses in the health care system globally. Hence, there is a need for the government to be more proactive in preparing for such pandemics by continuously enhancing the country’s health facilities and the whole health care system.

“Gawin po natin lahat ng ating makakaya para maiwasan ang krisis na ganito sa susunod na mga panahon at ma-protektahan ang mga Pilipino at ang susunod pang henerasyon,” he said.

Go also noted that although all affected countries were not prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak, this crisis also highlighted the importance of establishing facilities in preparation for these kinds of situations.

“Nakita naman po natin na ginagawa ng gobyerno ang lahat para rumesponde sa krisis. Nagtayo agad ng quarantine facilities sa iba’t ibang lugar gamit ang available infrastructure na meron na tayo. Dahil sa bayanihan natin at sa tulong rin ng private sector, nagamit rin ang mga barko para maging floating quarantine vessels, at iba pang mga gusali,” he explained.

“Pero kung mayroon na tayong nakahandang pasilidad para sa ganitong mga krisis o sakuna, mas mabilis at mas mabisa nating maproprotektahan ang kalusugan ng kapwa nating Pilipino. Maghanda na po tayo bago pa dumating ang susunod na problemang kailangan nating harapin,” he added.

Cop, colleague arrested for illegal drugs

A 32-year old Davao City Police Office personnel was arrested by the joint forces of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Monday evening, May 18.

Arrested were Police Staff Sergeant Mark Palma and his colleague Rodnie Tamayo.

The two were arrested during a buy-bust operation in Jaza 1, Km. 13 Panacan.

Operatives confiscated 7 sachets of suspected shabu with an estimated value of P225,000 from the suspects.

The two will be charged with violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Police Staff Sargeant Palma would also face summary dismissal from service.