PRRD to ‘cut short’ Christmas break to address concerns over new COVID-19 strain

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go on Friday, December 25, has confirmed that President Rodrigo Duterte is cutting short his Christmas break in Davao City to meet with concerned government officials to discuss measures to address the new COVID-19 strain.

According to Go, Duterte will be flying back to Manila to meet the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on Saturday.

“Biglaan ang patawag ng meeting with IATF and infectious disease experts tomorrow si PRRD to discuss [the] new strain,” Go said, stressing, “very much concerned kami ni Pangulo.”

“[Sa] Manila po, sa Malacañang. Cut short muna namin ang Christmas break,” he added as he emphasized, “para sa amin ni Pangulo, walang tulog ang serbisyo.”

In a phone interview, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told Palace reporters that the President and concerned government officials will also discuss what will happen to the travel ban imposed on travelers from the United Kingdom, and if a new travel ban needs to be imposed on travelers coming from other countries where the new COVID-19 strain has been confirmed.

“[Pag-uusapan] kung ano mangyayari sa travel ban na na-impose na sa mga galing ng Inglatera, kung kinakailangan ba ng travel ban kung saan nakapasok na ang bagong strain ng COVID-19,” Roque said, adding that the reimposition of an enhanced community quarantine in the country is unlikely.

“Hindi naman po siguro dahil pinapangalagaan na natin na ‘yung mga mamamayan ay magkaroon ng hanapbuhay,” he said.

The new COVID-19 strain has caused a surge of new infections in the United Kingdom, prompting countries to shut their borders to the UK. Meanwhile, countries like Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, Australia, Denmark, Italy, Gibraltar, and the Netherlands have already reported their first cases of the new strain.

The Philippines, on the other hand, has already imposed a temporary travel ban of flights from the United Kingdom since December 24 until the end of the year. However, outgoing flights are still allowed, following current exit protocols.

Meanwhile, Go continued to urge the public to strictly abide by necessary health protocols as they celebrate the holidays.

“Kasama natin ang ating pamilya, pero wala munang parties dahil delikado pa po habang wala pa pong vaccine, no time to celebrate, ‘wag muna tayong mag-celebrate, ang importante kasama natin ang pamilya sa isang bahay,” Go said, reminding everyone to wear masks and face shields, observe social distancing, and avoid unessential travels.

“Patuloy lang po tayong magdasal at magmalasakit sa kapwa. Alagaan natin ang ating kalusugan at panatilihing ligtas ang ating komunidad — iyan ang pinaka-importanteng mapapamahagi natin ngayong Pasko,” he added.

He reiterated that the government will prioritize the poor and vulnerable sectors, as well as frontliners, in gaining access to COVID-19 vaccines once a safe and effective vaccine is approved and made available to the public.

“Kami ni Pangulong Duterte, uunahin namin ang lahat ng mahihirap, uunahin namin ang lahat ng frontliners at vulnerable para makabalik sila sa kanilang normal na pamumuhay,” he said.

“At dapat libre para sa mahihirap at accessible ito sa lahat, lalo na po yung mga kababayan natin na wala pong choice but to go out and work,” he added.

Meanwhile, Go also told the media that the President is scheduled to sign the General Appropriations Act of 2021 on December 28.

###

Repatriate from Saudi Arabia comes home through Bong Go’s help and concerted effort of government agencies

On Wednesday, December 16, overseas Filipino worker Malik S. Darimbang arrived in the country after a grueling struggle to be repatriated. Darimbang had been stuck in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for six years after he got involved in a road accident which led to the death of a Pakistani national. Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has been instrumental in his successful repatriation.

Through the efforts of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh led by Ambassador Adnan V. Alonto, Political Officer Alexander Joseph Estomo of the same embassy, the Philippine Consulate General in Jeddah headed by Consul General Ed Badajos, the Office of the President, the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs (OUMWA), involved charity groups, and private donors, a Zoom meeting on the repatriation of Darimbang was conducted together with Go in September 2020 to help the OFW go back home.

According to the Senator, a private donor offered to pay for the blood money amounting to US$40,090.38 for the settlement of Darimbang’s case.

“So, ang ginawa ko po, mayroong isang kaibigan na nagkausap po kami noong isang araw, nagkataon lang po na mayroong pagtitipon, naikuwento ko po ito at hindi po siya nag-dalawang-isip na tutulong po kaagad,” Go said.

“So, iyun po ang magandang balita, na pwede natin ma-raise ‘yung amount na ‘yun. Humingi naman ako ng suporta mula sa opisyales, lalo na sa Ambassador doon, na tulungan kami na mapabilis ‘yung kanyang proseso para po makalaya at makabalik na po si Carim (Darimbang) dito sa ating bansa,” he added.

The transfer of funds for Darimbang’s blood money was made in October and November, after which a clearance from the Saudi court was given. A final exit visa for Darimbang was issued by the Shumaisy Jawazat deportation center on December 1, 2020.

Go expressed his elation on the OFW’s arrival to the country on Sunday, December 13. As the catalyst for making the repatriation successful, Go conveyed that this is an example of a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to help fellow Filipinos in distress abroad.

Darimbang, who hails from Marawi City, expressed his relief and gratitude for the help provided to him.

“Opo, sir, gusto ko ng makauwi kasi nami-miss ko na mga pamilya ko sir eh. Sampung taon na ako dito, hindi pa ako nakakauwi,” Darimbang said during the earlier Zoom meeting.

Darimbang’s journey to the Kingdom started in 2010 after being hired by a company as a driver for heavy machinery trucks. Based in Makkah, he got involved in a vehicular accident on February 2014 resulting to the death of a Pakistani national.

Since his company failed to resolve his case, the Saudi Lower Court of Makkah issued a court order stating that Darimbang is also equally liable for the accident. He was ordered to pay the amount of 150,000 Saudi Riyals which is over two million in Philippine currency.

Speaking to the press on Wednesday, December 16, Darimbang’s son, Saripoden Ipo Modin Abdul, also expressed his elation towards the good news and thanked Go for helping to bring home his father.

“Senator Bong Go, ako po ‘yung panglimang anak ni Malik Darimbang, sobra po kaming nagpapasalamat sa inyo. Hindi po matutumbasan ng kahit anong salapi ang pasasalamat namin sa inyo dahil sa ginawa ninyong tulong sa papa ko na kahit na sino po ang nilapitan namin, sa tagal ng taon, wala pong nakaresolba dito kundi kayo lang po,” Abdul said.

Ashleya Limbona, a member of Arkay Lawanen from Marawi City and who has been helping Darimbang, also shared their gratitude to the government for their help.

“Nagpapasalamat po kami dahil hindi ho ninyo kinalimutan na may mga Muslim na katulad ni Baba (Darimbang) na nagpakahirap po doon at medyo hindi pinalad pero tuloy pa rin ang buhay dahil ho sa inyo,” Limbona told the press.

“Iparating po natin kay President Rodrigo Duterte, maraming salamat po. Sa inyo po, sa OWWA din po, hindi niya pinabayaan dahil kung wala din ho si Senator Bong Go, wala rin ho magbibigay ng blood money which is very impossible na ma-raise up namin dahil dumaan din ang mga pamilya niya sa Marawi siege, kahit anong gawin nilang mag ipon-ipon hindi po namin kaya ‘yun. Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat,” she added.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has recently certified as urgent Senate Bill No. 1949 — the newest version of a measure filed by Senator Go providing for the creation of a Department of Overseas Filipinos (DOFil).

Go then urged his colleagues in the Senate to heed the call of the President and the millions of overseas Filipinos by immediately acting on the passage of the measure and continue the committee deliberations to see how the chamber can reach a viable solution.

In the explanatory note of SB 1949, Go said that the new version of the proposal “represents the unified position of the entire Executive branch of the government” and is intended to “enable the proposed Department to address the most crucial problems, deliver the most important services, and ultimately achieve its goals.”

The Senator emphasized that around ten million of the population are considered overseas Filipinos. While the government does its best to create equal or even better opportunities for these Filipinos to return home, it is still the responsibility of the state to take care of its citizens wherever they are in the world.

“Sila po ‘yung bagong bayani natin, more than ten million po ‘yan, nagpapakamatay sila sa ibang bansa. Alam niyo, hindi po nababayaran ang lungkot na mawalay sa pamilya — kaya po bigyan natin sila ng departamento na pinamumunuan ng isang Cabinet-level Secretary na para sa kanila talaga. Ito ang magtitimon, magpapagitna, poprotekta sa kanilang mga karapatan, magsisiguro sa kanilang kapakanan, at tutugon sa kanilang mga hinaing,” he lamented.

Baby with biliary atresia gets successful liver transplant in the Philippines

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go lauded the successful liver transplant surgery of Baby Sophie Aguilo — an operation done in the Philippines which proves the capability of the country’s doctors and health facilities to handle such conditions.

Baby Sophie, a biliary atresia patient, and her parents first met Go and President Rodrigo Duterte on January 15 this year and requested their assistance for the child’s medical operation.

On November 17, Baby Sophie’s diseased liver was removed, after which she received a graft taken from the liver of her mother who was her donor.

“Nakakatuwang malaman na malusog na si Baby Sophie ngayon. I hope to see her soon. Ingat po parati ngayong panahon na may hinaharap pa tayong krisis na dulot ng pandemya at iba pang kalamidad. Magdasal lang tayo at malalampasan din natin ito,” Go said.

The Senator sponsored a subdued birthday celebration under strict health protocols for the child at The Medical City (TMC) in Pasig City on December 11. During a Zoom video call, the Senator gave his warm greetings to the parents and doctors who made Sophie’s liver transplant a success. He also checked the status of Baby Sophie and gave her a message of hope for her fast recovery.

Meanwhile, Sophie’s parents, Kendy Aguilo and Ronald Naval, thanked Duterte and Go for their full support. In an interview after Baby Sophie’s successful operation, Naval said, “Marami pong salamat, binigyan ninyo po kami ng pagkakataon na makapiling ‘yung anak namin ng habambuhay o mas matagal.”

“I’m very, very thankful po na talagang sa awa ng Diyos, napansin po kami at natulungan po kami ng programa na ginawa ni President Duterte at ni Senator Bong Go po,” he added.

Baby Sophie was discharged on December 12 and, along with her parents, was assisted by personnel from the Office of Senator Bong Go and the Office of the President before, during and after the successful operation.

Baby Sophie was supposedly scheduled to undergo liver transplant in India but President Duterte urged that the transplant can be done in the country, citing the expertise of Filipino doctors.

This resulted in the establishment of a consortium among the Office of the President, Department of Health, Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), and TMC. The TMC agreed to collaborate and partner with PCMC as authorized by the DOH under its Medical Assistance to Indigent Patients Program by performing pediatric live transplant procedures to qualified candidates.

Under the agreement, the TMC shall provide surgeons, anesthesiologists, other medical specialists and attending staff, and allow the use of its facilities and all ancillary services for the conduct of evaluation and treatment and/or surgery of pediatric liver patients. The agreement gave way to the creation of the Pediatric Access to Liver Transplant (PasLit) program. Baby Sophie is the first patient-beneficiary under the said program and one of TMC’s few liver transplant recipients to date.

According to Dr. Vanessa de Villa, head of TMC-Center for Liver Disease Management and Transplantation, the success of all these liver transplant procedures can be credited to the expertise and preparedness of the hospital’s liver transplant medical team and the cooperation and support given by various sectors to the patient and her family.

Go has also expressed his confidence in the skills and expertise of Filipino doctors and surgeons. During a Zoom conversation with Dr. de Villa, Go said he hopes that more Filipino patients with liver diseases will be cured by Filipino doctors in the future.

“Alam naman natin, napakarami ng mga kababayan natin ang gustong magpa-opera sa ibang bansa. Sabi ko, ipinagmamalaki natin na kaya rin natin sa ating bansa,” Go said.

“With the success of the operation of Sophie, sana tuluy-tuloy po ito. Ako, malaki tiwala ko sa mga doktor natin sa Pilipinas,” he added.

Dr. de Villa responded and thanked Go for his efforts to facilitate the operation. She added that the successful surgery proves that everything is possible with the cooperation between the government and private sector.

“Napakita natin na kapag nagtulungan ang gobyerno at private sector, pwede talagang magawa lahat,” she added.

Previously, Go has called on the government to further improve the provision of accessible healthcare services and training for health professionals in treating liver diseases, particularly biliary atresia, so that patients will not need to fly to other countries for their operation.

Go, who has helped other families who have babies suffering from biliary atresia, even by helping facilitate their needed operations outside the country, stressed that a lot of Filipinos are suffering from this ailment and asking for help for such operations.

“Kung mayroon tayo dito sa Pilipinas ng mga kailangang equipment, mas maraming well-trained specialists at mas murang operasyon, hindi na kailangang magpagamot pa sa ibang bansa ang mga pasyenteng ito,” the Senator emphasized.

Go committed that he will continue to push for the enhancement of healthcare services in the country to make them at par with the rest of the world in order to cater to the needs of fellow Filipinos.

“Magtulungan tayong maisaayos ang ating mga pasilidad pangkalusugan para hindi na natin kailangang umasa sa ibang bansa para sa mga operasyon, tulad ng paggamot sa biliary atresia. Magagaling naman ang ating mga doktor,” Go said.

Port of Davao Seizes Php 13.19M Worth of Smuggled Cigarettes

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) Port of Davao thru Sub-port in Parang together with the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) and Enforcement and Security Service (ESS), and in coordination with the Philippine Marines, Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) seized 432 boxes of smuggled cigarettes last December 7, 2020 in Cotabato City.

The shipment was intercepted while entering the country aboard a motorized banca bearing the name Al-Shameem and was at the time plying the Rio Grande river in Cotabato City. The goods were identified to have brands such as Fort, Bravo, Canon, New Berlin, Astro, Famous and Aries with an estimated value of Php 13,188.411.09.

“Through stronger relations with our partner agencies, we have increased anti-smuggling activities that has led to higher rates of seizure on illicit goods in our area of responsibility.” BOC Davao District Collector, Atty. Erastus Sandino Austria said.

A Warrant of Seizure and Detention (WSD) has already been issued against the illicit articles in violation of R.A. 10863 also known as the Customs Modernization and Tarif Act (CMTA).

The Port of Davao reassures the public that the collection district together with its Sub-Ports shall strive to protect the country’s borders in accordance with Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero’s drive to curb smuggling in the country.

Bong Go commends LGUs for their continuing ‘bayanihan’ efforts to beat COVID-19

Lays down his priority measures as legislator and representative of the people

During the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines’ #BeatCOVID19 Dialogue series on Thursday, December 10, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, as guest speaker, lauded local government units for their untiring service and for sufficiently responding to the needs of their constituents.

In his virtual speech during the event attended by local chief executives, league presidents and representatives from national agencies, Go urged LGUs to continue the bayanihan efforts to overcome the ongoing pandemic.

“Habang dahan-dahan nating binubuksan ang ekonomiya, alalayan natin ang mga maliliit na negosyo at mga ordinaryong manggagawa na makabangon. Higit sa lahat, ‘wag tayo maging kampante, unahin pa rin natin ang kapakanan ng nakararami at buhay ng bawat Pilipino,” Go said.

“Ang pera po ay ating kikitain, subalit ang perang kikitain natin ay hindi po nabibili ang buhay. A lost life is a lost life forever. Kaya ako naman po, I will not limit myself as a legislator. Trabaho namin, constituency, representation and legislation,” he added.

Legislative measures to make government more responsive towards long-term recovery

Go also emphasized on the need to improve the country’s healthcare system as a crucial aspect towards recovery.

“This is why I have filed bills to boost our public health system and ensure that we are better prepared for future pandemics,” he said.

Among Go’s measures include Senate Bill 1226, or the proposed Department of Health Hospital Bed Capacity and Service Capability Rationalization Act, which aims to “streamline the process of upgrading our public hospitals.”

“Ako po mismo witness po ako, napakadami pong ospital na kulang ang hospital beds at napakahaba po ng proseso, hindi na po makaantay ang ating mga pasyente. Minsan nakahilera diyan, isang kama dalawang pasyente. Lalung lalo na po sa panahon ng pandemya, magkakahawaan po talagang kulang ang ating mga hospital equipment, facilities, po sa totoo lang,” he mentioned.

His other measures to improve the country’s healthcare system include SB 1259 or the Mandatory Quarantine Facilities Act of 2020; SB 1528 or An Act Amending RA 11332, known as the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act; SB 1451, also known as the Medical Reserve Corps Act of 2020; and SB 1803 which seeks to institutionalize the system of providing e-Health services to the public.

Among other healthcare measures already enacted into law are the several local hospital bills he sponsored which upgraded various public hospitals nationwide, and the Republic Act 11463 or the Malasakit Centers Act which mandates the establishment of Malasakit Centers in all Department of Health-run hospitals and the Philippine General Hospital.

Meanwhile, Go is also prioritizing the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos through Senate Bill No. 1835, which he filed on September 16, 2020 considering inputs from the concerned executive agencies.

“Alam niyo, mahirap naman pong magpasa ng batas na ibi-veto din ng ating executive. Kaya napagkasunduan na po ito ng iba’t ibang ahensya ng executive department na ito po ay compromise na para po matuloy ‘yung pinangako ni Pangulong Duterte na Department of Overseas Filipinos na sinasabi natin na bagong bayani natin. Ibigay natin what is due to them,” Go said.

“Sila po ‘yung bayani natin, more than ten million po ‘yan, nagpapakamatay sila sa ibang bansa. Alam niyo, hindi po nababayaran ang lungkot, hindi magtatrabaho sa ibang bansa ‘yan kung parehas lang po ang suweldo rito. Kaya po bigyan natin sila ng departamentong para sa kanila po na magtitimon, nagpapagitna,” he added.

Go is also pushing for better mechanisms to address natural disasters through SB 205 which seeks to establish a Department of Disaster Resilience. This aims to enhance inter-agency coordination by establishing a cabinet-level agency in-charge of disaster preparedness, response, mitigation and resilience.

“Kung mayroon tayong cabinet-secretary level po na magtitimon po bago pa dumating, preparation and preposition ng goods, coordination between ULAP, between LGUs, governors, mayors, konsehal, lahat po — mayroon pong departamento down to regional and provincial offices na Department of Disaster Resilience — ‘yun na po ang makikipag-coordinate, maiiwan po doon sa lugar at sisiguraduhing matapos ang trabaho hanggang makabangon muli ang mga apektado,” he explained.

To complement the DDR measure, Go filed SB 1228 or the Mandatory Evacuation Center Act which seeks to build evacuation centers and structures stronger than a typhoon.

Go also advised concerned LGUs to ensure public funds are used properly to benefit the most needy. President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the release of financial assistance to LGUs severely hit by Typhoons Ulysses and Rolly by augmenting their respective calamity funds.

“Alam naman natin na ubos talaga ang calamity fund ninyo dahil ginamit niyo po sa COVID-19 pandemic… Kaya po pinaglaban ko, sabi ko puwede bang tulungan ‘yung ma-augment ‘yung calamity fund, ‘yung mga severely hit talaga na tinamaan po na mga LGUs. At pumayag naman po ang ating Pangulo at inaprubahan niya kaagad na tulungan kaagad,” he shared.

Ensure safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines; prioritize poor, vulnerable, frontliners

Assuring the local officials that enough funds had been allotted for the COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 General Appropriations Bill, Go shared that the Senate has already ratified the Bicameral Report for next year’s budget.

“The budget will be focused on addressing the COVID-19 crisis, boosting economic recovery, and continuing the priority programs and projects of the Duterte Administration towards fulfilling the promise of President Duterte of providing a comfortable life for all Filipinos,” he said.

He also recounted how he fought for the budget of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine which has turned out to be crucial in the country’s fight against COVID-19.

“Alam niyo po, ikukwento ko lang po sa inyo, ‘yung RITM muntik na pong mabawasan ang pondo noong nakaraang taon, ay hindi natin akalain na sila pala ang pinaka-importanteng opisina sa pandemyang ito. Binawasan po ng mahigit hundred million, pinabalik ko po sa committee at noong Marso, noong Enero sila ‘yung unang nagte-test,” said Go.

“Paano na lang kaya kung nawalan sila ng pondo? Hindi natin akalain. So, dapat ay laging handa po tayo sa mga ganitong mga pangyayari,” he added.

The 2021 GAB includes funds for COVID-19 vaccines amounting to PhP2.5 billion under the DOH. There is also a standby fund of around PhP70 Billion in the unprogrammed appropriations for vaccine procurement, storage, transport, and distribution of vaccine.

“Ulitin ko lang po, paalala ko lang po kay Secretary Carlito Galvez parati, tuwing nag-uusap kami, unahin muna natin na maging – ‘yung safe — ‘yung safety at efficacy ng vaccine. Ang Pilipino po sa kabababa ko, gusto nila magpa-vaccine, pero ang tanong sinong mauuna? Kaya nagtutulakan, kayo muna, wait and see po ‘yan… lahat po ‘yan ay gustong magpa-vaccine kapag nakita nilang epektibo na po ang vaccine,” Go explained.

He also shared that a National Vaccine Roadmap has already been formulated to ensure the systematic procurement and deployment of the vaccines once they are available.

“’Yung direct procurement, either through annual budget or Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, is only one of the four modes of procurement of government is exploring,” he said.

Other equally important modes include multilateral loans with the ADB and the World Bank, bilateral loans with select countries, and private sector financing through tripartite agreement among the national government, pharmaceutical company and the private company with no cost to government.

“Mayroon pong mga negosyante ngayon at nangako sila na bibili sila ng mga vaccine para sa mga empleyado nila at kalahati po ay ido-donate daw po nila sa ating mga kababayang Pilipino,” he added.

Continuing service to Filipinos in crisis situations

Ending his speech, Go told Filipinos that he will continue to help those in crisis situations wherever they are in the country.

“Pitong araw sa isang linggo, apat na araw po kami sa Senado, tatlong araw po ilalaan ko ‘yan sa pag-iikot. Kahit saang sulok ng Pilipinas — nasunugan, tinamaan ng lindol, apektado ng pagputok ng bulkan, nabahaan, lahat ng klase ng krisis — pupuntahan ko kayo at pakikinggan ko kayo,” he assured.

“Patuloy niyo pa rin po akong magiging tulay kay Pangulong Duterte at makapagbigay po ng kaunting solusyon sa inyong mga problema,” he said.

“Magbayanihan po tayo at huwag po kayong mag-alala, hindi kayo pababayaan ng gobyerno, hindi kayo pababayaan ni Pangulong Duterte. We just need your cooperation, malalampasan rin natin ang pagsubok na kinahaharap natin. At makakabangon muli tayo bilang nagkakaisa at mas matatag na bansa,” he ended.