Bong Go seeks postponement of opening of classes

Senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography Christopher “Bong” Go on August 13, is recommending to the government to postpone further the opening of the school year, which is slated this coming August 24. “Our children’s safety and well-being are of utmost importance and it is our responsibility to ensure these,” he firmly said.

Go is proposing to move the opening of classes to October 2020 to give students, teachers, learning institutions and education authorities more time to prepare given the challenges the country is still facing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Umaapela ako sa Executive branch na kung maaari ay i-postpone muna ng ilan pang buwan ang pagbubukas ng klase habang wala pang bakuna sa COVID-19. Huwag nating isugal ang buhay at kaligtasan ng ating mga kabataan.

“Kung hindi pa handa, huwag nating pilitin. Magiging kawawa ang mga estudyante, kawawa ang mga teachers. Hirap na po ang mga Pilipino, huwag na nating dagdagan pa ng pressure ang mga bata at mga magulang nila,” the Senator said in a statement.

“Para rin hindi ma-pressure at madaliin ng DepEd at iba pang ahensya ang mga paghahandang kailangang gawin, bigyan muna natin sila ng dagdag na oras upang plantsahin at ayusin ng mabuti ang lahat ng mga plano sa pag-conduct ng flexible o blended learning.

“Siguraduhin nating magiging maayos ang implementasyon para hindi na madagdagan ang paghihirap ng mga tao. Katulad ng sinabi ko noon, dapat siguraduhin na makakapag-aral ang ating mga estudyante sa maayos at ligtas na paraan in line with the President’s position of ‘no vaccine, no face-to-face classes’,” Go also added in his statement.

The Senator also explained that given the challenges the whole country is currently facing and the adverse economic impact it has caused to various sectors, it would be beneficial to give affected Filipinos more time to adapt to the so-called ‘new normal’.

“Sa konting postponement na ito, mabibigyan ng karagdagang panahon upang mas makapaghanda ang mga students, teachers, learning institutions, education authorities and even the general public. This is to better prepare and fine tune the country’s flexible continuity learning plans,” he further explained.

“Karamihan sa atin hirap pa mag-transition sa alternative modes tulad ng online transactions at online learning. Ang internet hindi rin reliable, tapos yung offline modes of learning naman pinaghahandaan pa rin,” Go lamented.

“Ayaw nating maipasa ang burden sa estudyante at ma-pressure sila dahil sa makabagong paraan ng pag-aaral kung hindi pa naman po handa ang lahat,” he added.

During the August 12 hearing of the Senate Committee on Basic Education joint with the Committee on Health and Demography, Go emphasized again the need for education authorities and school officials to explore more learning modes, combining offline and online method. Go said that he hopes all Filipino children will be given equal opportunity to learn wherever they are in the country.

“Kung tayo nga dito sa Senado ay nahihirapan sa transition to online, paano pa kaya sila? Bukod sa mga estudyante, dapat alalayan din natin ang ating mga guro. Dapat may angkop na trainings din para sa kanila,” he said.

Last July 17, 2020, Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11480, giving authority to the President of the Philippines, upon the recommendation of the Education Secretary, to set a different date of opening of school year in the country or parts thereof in cases of the declaration of state of emergency or state of calamity. It shall apply to all basic educational institutions, including international schools.

“Sa anumang desisyon ng gobyeno, palaging isaalang-alang, una sa lahat ay ang buhay at kaligtasan ng ating mga mamamayan,” he finally said.

Philippines deepens engagements with Russia, US and other countries for COVID-19 vaccine

Senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Health Christopher “Bong” Go said that the Philippines, under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, continues to deepen its engagements with Russia, United States and other countries to ensure that Filipinos will have access to the development and supplies of COVID-19 vaccines once these are made available.

Go shared that Igor Khovaev, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Philippines, informed him in a letter, dated August 1, that Russia was then nearing completion of the production of the vaccine against COVID-19. Khovaev has subsequently confirmed that Russia has already successfully completed the clinical trials (phase 3) for the world’s first vaccine against COVID-19.

“Nagpahiwatig ang Russian government, through Ambassador Igor Khovaev, na natapos na nila ang clinical trials, ang phase 3, para sa vaccine against COVID-19. Kasalukuyang inaayos na lang ang mga government registration papers nito,” Go shared.

“Tatlong bagay ang nasa offer ni Ambassador Khovaev. Una, na dito rin sa Pilipinas mag-conduct ng clinical trials. Magsu-supply din sila sa atin ng bakunang ito kontra COVID-19. At, pangatlo, plano nilang mag-set up ng local manufacturing dito mismo sa bansa natin,” he confirmed.

The vaccine, using the trade name “Avigavir”, has been developed by the National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology under the name of N.F. Gamaleya of the Russian Ministry of Health. The center has previously developed successful vaccines against Ebola fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. The vaccine research was supported by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). It was the RDIF that proposed to establish partnership with the Philippines in COVID-19 manufacturing and distribution.

“Dahil sa maayos na independent foreign policy of ‘being an enemy to none and a friend to all’ ni Pangulong Duterte, nasisiguro ng pamahalaan natin na meron tayong access sa development at, eventually, mga supply ng bakuna kontra COVID-19 mula sa mga bansa na itinuturing nating mga development partners,” Go explained.

He attributed President Duterte’s independent foreign policy for this, and which is anchored on a national security policy that puts balanced emphasis on the welfare and well-being of the Filipino people.

Go also shared that the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel Romualdez, confirmed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging two vaccine manufacturers to meet Romualdez anytime this week.

“Inaayos ang pagpupulong between our ambassador to the United States and at least two vaccine manufacturers in the US,” Go also shared. Novavax is reportedly interested also in co-manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines.

The President, in his latest State of the Nation Address last July 27, also revealed that he talked to his Chinese counterpart to ensure access of the Philippines to Chinese vaccine against COVID-19.

As of August 7, at least six vaccines are entering Phase 3 trials, according to Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization – Health Emergencies Program.

Phase 3 trials are conducted involving the general population and are required before making available to the public any vaccine produced to further ensure its safety. They are designed to determine if the vaccine being developed can protect large number of people over a longer period of time. Previous trials had focused on safety, immunogenicity and immune response in a smaller number of people.

To date, at least 165 vaccines against COVID-19 are being developed under various trial stages, with 26 of them now under clinical trials.

Previously, Go urged the national government to come up with a national vaccine program to ensure access of particularly the poorest of the poor and other vulnerable Filipinos should a vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available.

“Huwag sana pabayaan ang mga mahihirap. Paghandaan na natin ngayon palang. Magtabi na tayo ng budget para masigurong kakayanin ng gobyerno na matulungan ang pinaka-nangangailangan. Magkaroon po tayo ng plano kung saan dapat pantay-pantay at hindi lang ang mga may kaya sa buhay ang makakakuha,” he earlier urged.

“Unahin dapat ‘yung mga mahihirap na nangangailangan ng vaccine pero walang kakayahan na makabili nito. Dapat siguraduhing maging available, accessible at affordable ito sa lahat. Dapat pantay-pantay,” he said.

The finance department has earlier announced that it earmarked P20 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, with Go also appealing to the government to allocate additional funds.

“Ito ay upang mas marami pang mga kababayan natin, lalo na ang mga pinaka-nangangailangan, ang mabibigyan ng libreng bakuna. Ito ay alinsunod din sa nais ni Pangulong Duterte na unang mabigyan ng bakuna ang mga poorest of the poor and other vulnerable sectors,” Go further said.

Go reminded concerned government agencies that they are expected to prioritize, coordinate and report to the President and the Filipino people the developments on this issue of national importance.

“Patuloy po nating hinaharap ang epekto ng pandemya sa ating buhay. Bigyan natin ang ating mga kababayan ng balitang mas magpapalakas ng kanilang loob. If everything goes according to plan, we will soon overcome this crisis as one nation,” Go said.

Bong Go asks Task Force to ‘bite-off’ systemic corruption in government

Amid the alleged corruption scandal plaguing the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Senator Christopher “Bong” Go guaranteed in an interview that President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration will intensify the fight against corruption in the last two years in his term.

“Sabi ng Pangulo, ‘di siya titigil na lalabanan ang korapsyon. The next two years, sabi n’ya magwawala po siya. Ibig sabihin ‘magwawala’, gagawin niya ang lahat, sasagasaan n’ya ang dapat sagasaan… gagawin niya ang lahat para sa Pilipino,” Go said in an interview.

Go also mentioned that he was reminded by President Duterte to speak up against corruption regardless if it will involve political allies or fellow public officials.

“Ako naman, pinapaalala n’ya sa akin, sabi nya, ‘ikaw, Bong, kahit na ally tayo, kahit mga kasamahan natin sa gobyerno, ‘pag pumasok sa katiwalian, magsalita ka. Kahit magsalita ka na like an opposition, magsalita ka basta may nakikita kang katiwalian sa gobyerno ‘yan’,” Go said, echoing the words of the President.

For his part, Go challenged the executive department, particularly the Department of Justice which leads the Task Force recently created by the President, to bring to justice those responsible for anomalous acts and put an end to the deeply-rooted and systemic corruption in government.

“I am challenging the Executive Department, especially Secretary (Menardo) Guevarra, Secretary (Salvador) Medialdea. Pwede rin po nilang i-tap ang PACC (Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission) rito kasama rin ‘yan sa order ng Pangulo para tumulong,” Go said.

“Tulungan n’yo po ang Pilipino. Totohanin n’yo po. Ikulong n’yo po, lalung lalo na ang mga magnanakaw na nagsasamantala sa pera ng tao. Alam n’yo napakahalaga ng bawat piso sa bawat Pilipino ngayong panahong ito,” he appealed.

Earlier, Go, who is also chair of the Senate Committee on Health, enjoined all agencies of government to cooperate and support the efforts of the task force. He explained that this was created to focus on alleged irregularities in the PhilHealth, but eventually can also cover other agencies plagued with deeply rooted and systemic issues of corruption.

“With more teeth, we expect this Task Force to discharge its key mandates without fear or favor and with greater haste. These mandates shall include the authority to initiate thorough investigation, conduct audit, lifestyle checks, recommend suspensions, prosecute and file cases, and ensure that those accountable be put in jail,” he explained.

“Habang nilalabanan natin ang COVID-19, hindi rin tayo titigil hanggang mabigyan ng mabisang lunas ang malubhang sakit na dulot ng corruption sa buong sistema ng gobyerno,” Go added.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, Go said that he has spoken with the Departments of Finance, and Budget and Management and urged them to help PhilHealth in the implementation of the Universal Healthcare (UHC) Law given that collections of contributions are dwindling.

“Bago pa pinatawag ng Senado, nagkaroon kami na pagpupulong between economic managers ng Pangulo, Secretary (Carlos) Dominguez, Secretary (Wendel) Avisado. Ako, inilapit ko sa kanila ang PhilHealth, bago pa pumutok ang issue na ito, dahil nangangamba kami, sabi ko sa financial managers ng Pangulo, ‘di katanggap-tanggap na tutuntong tayo ng 2021 na walang pondo ang UHC,” said Go.

“Hindi ko matanggap na pupunta ang pasyente sa ospital tatanggihan doon na wala nang pondo ang PhilHealth para sa UHC. Sabi ko, unahin ang UHC. Kung merong pondo na ilaan, unahin natin ang health ng bawat Pilipino,” he asserted.

The Senator, then, expressed his sympathy towards Filipinos who pay their PhilHealth premiums diligently while allegations of rampant corruption exist in the agency.

“Ako po, awang awa na sa Pilipino. Tulad ng PhilHealth, nagre-remit sila, pinaghirapan nila ang pera, tapos mapupunta lang sa bulsa ng magnanakaw. Ayoko naman po sabihin agad na may nagnakaw o sinuman, kaya dapat imbestigahan ng mabuti ng Task Force at kasuhan. I-suspend para ‘di makagalaw. Kasi kung tuloy ang imbestigasyon at nandiyan pa rin po, patuloy pa ring makakagalaw, wala pong mangyayari,” Go explained.

“Gaya ng sinabi ko kanina, bawat piso ay mahalaga sa bawat Pilipino. Talagang dapat walang masayang. Dapat totohanan natin (na matitigil ang corruption). ‘Yung ngipin, nandiyan sa mga miyembro ng Task Force. Dapat kagatin n’yo talaga…. Gamitin n’yo pangkagat para madala,” he added.

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Bong Go recommends creation of Task Force to cure agencies of systemic corruption

Amid the alleged systemic corruption plaguing the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Health Christopher “Bong” Go has recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte the creation of a Task Force to investigate the anomalies surrounding the agency.

“I have recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte to consider the creation of a Task Force to investigate the issues surrounding PhilHealth. The Task Force can be spearheaded by the Department of Justice with the full support of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission and the Office of the Executive Secretary. The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission may also be tapped to help out,” Go said recently.

Go added that the proposed Task Force will focus on PhilHealth now but can eventually cover other agencies with issues of systemic and deeply rooted corruption such as the Bureau of Customs which has been perennially accused of alleged anomalies within its ranks.

“Hindi lang naman po PhilHealth ang may problema, alam natin na may iba pang mga ahensya dyan na kailangang gamutin para tuluyang matanggal ang corruption sa kanilang sistema. Halimbawa nito ay ang customs,” Go said.

The Senator highlighted that at a time when Filipinos face a health crisis, the government must take immediate action to address corruption issues through a “whole-of-government” approach which can be carried out by the proposed Task Force with “enough teeth” to carry out its six key mandates: to investigate, conduct lifestyle check, audit, recommend suspensions, prosecute and file charges, and put in jail those responsible for these anomalies.

“Itong isyu sa PhilHealth, halos taon taon na ito iniimbestigahan ng Senado. Naka ilang palit na rin tayo ng liderato, pang-apat na PhilHealth President na ito, at nagkaroon na rin ng board revamp, pero mukhang nasa loob ng ahensya at sa baba talaga ang problema,” Go said.

“Ang papel ng Task Force ay mag-imbestiga, mag-file ng kaso, mag-recommend ng suspension, mag-lifestyle check, mag-audit at maglagay sa kulungan ng mga opisyal at empleyado na mapatunayang nagnanakaw ng pera ng taumbayan. Hindi lang sa mga nasa taas kundi pati rin ‘yung mga kawani ng gobyerno under the Civil Service na mapapatunayang parte ng maduming sistema ng korapsyon,” he explained.

Despite the ongoing efforts to reform PhilHealth, Go said that it remains to be tainted with allegations of systemic corruption, particularly in the middle to lower levels of its organization and the approach cannot simply rely on its leadership to cleanse its ranks.

“Paano matutulungan ng PhilHealth ang mga Pilipinong kailangan magpagamot kung ang sarili nitong sakit sa loob ng ahensya ay hindi nito magamot?,” he said.

Go also noted that the government’s campaign against corruption and criminality continues as President Duterte is firm in his goal to put a stop to these anomalies.

“Exhausted na po ang ating Pangulo pero hindi po siya titigil na labanan ang corruption until the last day of his term. Umabot na sa punto na sinabihan niya ako ‘to talk like an opposition’ kapag corruption na ang pinag-uusapan,” Go said.

Go also stressed the crucial role that PhilHealth is fulfilling at this time, being the main implementer of the Universal Health Care Act.

“Huwag naman nating hayaang tuluyang mamatay ang PhilHealth sa panahon na kailangan ng taumbayan ng maayos na serbisyong pangkalusugan. As the President said, let us do everything in our power to, once and for all, put an end to the perennial issues surrounding PhilHealth and cure it from systemic corruption,” Go said.

“Pera ng taumbayan ang bumubuhay sa PhilHealth kaya siguraduhin natin na ni piso ay hindi masayang o manakaw. Ibalik natin ito sa tao sa pamamagitan ng mabilis, maayos, at maaasahang serbisyo mula sa isang gobyernong palaging nagmamalasakit sa bawat Pilipino,” he added.

Lastly, Go emphasized that this proposed Task Force will not only focus on PhilHealth but will also look into other concerns to put an end to the systemic corruption in government.

“Hindi titigil ang Pangulo sa kampanya nito laban sa korapsyon. Walang makakapigil at mas lalong walang pinipili na kakampi o kalaban ang Pangulo. Basta korapsyon, hihiritan at tutuluyan ka niya,” Go said.

“Kaya naman hindi ko rin kayo titigilan…. Gagawin ko ang lahat para mabigyan ng hustisya ang mga Pilipino. Sisiguraduhin kong mabubulok kayo sa kulungan at may kalalagyan kayo,” he added.

“Naniniwala akong meron pa naman diyan na gusto talagang magsilbi with all honesty and integrity kaya hindi ako nawawalan ng pag-asa. Kailangan lang talaga ng mabisang gamot na tatalab talaga upang tuluyang matanggal ang korapsyon sa ating sistema,” he emphasized further.

Bong Go recommends creation of a Task Force to cure PhilHealth of its systemic problems

Exhausted na po ang ating Pangulo pero hindi po siya titigil na labanan ang corruption until the last day of his term. Umabot na sa punto na sinabihan niya ako “to talk like an opposition” kapag corruption na ang pinag-uusapan. Hindi siya nagpapapigil at wala siyang pinipili, kakampi man o kalaban. Basta corruption ang isyu, hihiritan at tutuluyan ka niya.

Itong isyu sa PhilHealth, halos taon taon na ito iniimbestigahan ng Senado. Naka ilang palit na rin tayo ng liderato, pang-apat na PhilHealth President na ito, at nagkaroon na rin ng board revamp, pero mukhang nasa loob ng ahensya at sa baba talaga ang problema.

Paano matutulungan ng PhilHealth ang mga Pilipinong kailangan magpagamot kung ang sarili nitong sakit sa loob ng ahensya ay hindi nito magamot?

Huwag naman nating hayaang tuluyang mamatay ang PhilHealth sa panahon na kailangan ng taumbayan ng maayos na serbisyong pangkalusugan. Naniniwala akong meron pa naman diyan na gusto talagang magsilbi with all honesty and integrity kaya hindi ako nawawalan ng pag-asa. Kailangan lang talaga ng mabisang gamot na tatalab talaga upang matanggal ang mga masasamang loob na sumisira sa PhilHealth.

This is why I have recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte to consider the creation of a Task Force to investigate the issues surrounding PhilHealth. The Task Force can be spearheaded by the Department of Justice with the full support of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, and the Office of the Executive Secretary. The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission may also be tapped to help out.

Despite the ongoing efforts to reform PhilHealth, it remains to be tainted with allegations of systemic corruption, particularly in the middle to lower levels of its organization. We cannot simply rely on its leadership to cleanse its ranks. We need a ‘whole-of-government’ approach through a Task Force that has enough ‘teeth’ to investigate, audit, prosecute, file charges and put in jail those responsible for these anomalies.

As the President said, let us do everything in our power to, once and for all, put an end to the perennial issues surrounding PhilHealth and cure it from systemic corruption.

Let us give the people a clean and effective PhilHealth that they deserve. Pera ng taumbayan ang bumubuhay sa PhilHealth kaya siguraduhin natin na ni piso ay hindi masayang o manakaw. Ibalik natin ito sa tao sa pamamagitan ng mabilis, maayos, at maaasahang serbisyo mula sa isang gobyernong palaging nagmamalasakit sa bawat Pilipino.

This proposed Task Force will focus on PhilHealth for now, but can eventually cover other agencies with issues of systemic corruption. Hindi lang naman po PhilHealth ang may problema, alam natin na may iba pang mga ahensya dyan na kailangang gamutin para tuluyang matanggal ang corruption sa kanilang sistema.”