House to approve three bills on economy, public health

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

The House Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) is set to approve on Thursday (May 28) three more measures, including the proposed COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020, which seek to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and public health.

House of the Representatives (Facebook/ MANILA BULLETIN) House of the Representatives (Facebook/ MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

The panel, co-chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader and Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez, will conduct a virtual hearing on Thursday to pass the bills creating the P1.5 trillion COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Fund; the proposed Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities, and Public Spaces Act of 2020; and the substitute bill mandating the conduct of Baseline Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) COVID-19 testing for vulnerable groups.

The proposed CURES Act and the proposed Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities, and Public Spaces Act of 2020 were principally authored by Cayetano, Romualdez, and Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.

The health bill was authored by DCC Health and COVID-19 Response cluster chair and Iloilo 1st district Rep. Janette Garin.

House Bill (HB) No. 6709 or the proposed CURES Act was approved on Tuesday by the DCC's social amelioration cluster, co-chaired by Villafuerte and Leyte 4th district Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez.

The proposed Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities, and Public Spaces Act of 2020 was approved on Wednesday by the DCC-New Normal Cluster, chaired by Antique lone district Rep. Loren Legarda.


Romualdez cited the social amelioration cluster's "swift action" on the proposed CURES Act, which aims to create sustainable jobs that will provide employment and income-earning opportunities to the underprivileged, especially in the rural areas affected by the pandemic.

He said the bill "is anchored on the principle that government spending on infrastructure is a vehicle towards economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as it directly increases employment, adds to demand for goods and services through purchases of materials and equipment, and creates a multiplier effect through additional spending of hired workers."

HB 6709 calls for the establishment of the CURES Fund for the implementation of infrastructure projects across the priority areas of health, education, agriculture, and local roads/infrastructure, and livelihood (HEAL).

The CURES Fund shall be made available for three fiscal years with P500 billion to be appropriated every year from the approval of the proposed act.

The bill provides that after three years, Congress shall enact legislation extending, modifying, or terminating the CURES Fund.

“If we were able to provide over P200 billion in dole-outs through the Bayanihan Act, I think it is just right to provide P500 billion under the proposed CURES Act to create jobs. The rationale of this bill is that all infrastructure projects should be shovel-ready," Villafuerte said.

'Better Normal' Act

Meanwhile, the proposed Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities, and Public Spaces Act of 2020 seeks to establish policies, regulations, and public health safeguards for the better normal in the workplace, public spaces, and communities for the next three years amid the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Legarda said they are expected to sponsor the bill in the plenary on Thursday.

The unnumbered substitute bill approved by the Legarda panel provides the "adoption of an integrated and comprehensive approach to public health policies and regulations during a pandemic, where the overall well-being of individuals, communities, and natural ecosystems are ensured."

It calls for the institution and establishment of standards and protocols to protect vulnerable sectors from the disease, to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, and ensure the restoration of livelihood opportunities and sources of income for all.

Covered by the proposed act are the organization, operation, and activities in workplaces, communities, and public spaces.

Among the universal and mandatory health and safety measures to be imposed in public places are personal hygiene, the wearing of face masks, the availability of hand-washing or sanitizing stations, body temperature checks, physical distancing, information and educational campaign, testing centers and mass testing, contract tracing, and regular cleaning and disinfection of transport conveyances and station premises and facilities.

Under the substitute bill, public gatherings are prohibited, subject to exceptions as may be provided under the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), while privately-organized gatherings shall also be highly-regulated.

The bill tasks the local government units (LGUs) to regulate gatherings as well as the flow of people in government-managed public spaces.

It provides the establishment of urban gardens and agriculture and green spaces, and designated smoking areas shall not be allowed.

In public transportation, universal and mandatory safety measures shall be observed in terminals, interiors of public utility vehicles (PUVs), mass transportation, and app-based transport network services (TNS).

Passengers shall be seated one seat apart, and the use of contactless payment mechanisms shall be imposed under the bill.

The proposed act provides that the operation of motorcycle taxis shall remain suspended.

The bill also tasks the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to determine the start of the academic year and to implement alternative platforms of learning, instruction, and evaluation.

It mandates the DepEd to develop a flexible learning program to limit physical contact among the school population.

"Students shall not be penalized for inability to participate due to limitations in connectivity or unavailability of gadgets or equipment," the bill said.

Baseline PCR Testing bill

Set to be passed by the DCC is the substitute bill to Garin's House Bill No. 6707, which seeks to stop the transmission of COVID-19 and reduce COVID-19 mortality through early detection and management.

The unnumbered bill seeks to establish baseline PCR testing as the protocol for COVID-19 testing.

It mandates the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to ensure that COVID testing centers are available, affordable, and accessible.

It mandates the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) to shoulder the cost of testing.

Meanwhile, the DCC on Tuesday approved the substitute measures to the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer Act (FIST), and COVID-19 Related Anti-Discrimination Act.