By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading House Bill 6817 making unlawfull all acts of discrimination against returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), medical frontliners, and persons suffering or have recovered from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In a plenary session that lasted for nearly nine hours, the legislative chamber on Tuesday night also approved HB 6816 or the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer Act (FIST) as part of the measures aimed at addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
The Lower House voted 204 in favor to pass HB 6817. There were no negative votes or abstentions.
HB 6816, or the FIST, was approved on final reading with 204 affirmative votes, six negative, and one abstention.
Both approved measures were among the several bills endorsed for passage by the Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee that was created by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the House leadership to help the country cushion the impact of the adverse economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The enactment of FIST is aimed at supporting banks and other financial institutions affected by the pandemic’s paralyzing impact. This will help them unload non-performing assets and address bad debt situations and encourage the private sector and the government to incorporate and invest in FIST endeavors.
Authored by Quezon City Rep. Christopher Belmonte, HB 6817, the COVID-19 Related Anti-Discrimination Act, is among the priority measures that the House leadership have listed for passage prior to the sine die adjournment tomorrow.
Masbate Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr. chairman of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, sponsored the measure and sought swift approval as he stressed that a law protecting COVID-19 patients and medical frontliners from physical harm and acts of discrimination has become important as the nation faces the effects of the pandemic.
The bill defines discrimination as any act of “unjust distinction, exclusion, or restriction which has the effect of imparing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, and exercise on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any field of the public life of the person.”
Such acts of discrimination also tend to have an effect of endangering a person’s life, safety, and security.
Protected under the measure are persons who have been declared confirmed, suspect, and probable victims of COVID-19, those who have recovered from the disease, and essential frontline workers.
Belmonte said the bill also extends the same lawful protection to healthcare workers, respondents, recognized volunteers, stranded individuals traveling from one local government unit to another, service workers, repatriated overseas Filipino workers, and families and members of the households of the said persons.
Discriminatory practices that will be considered as offenses are the failure of public officials, healthcare workers, and institutions to give assistance to COVID-19 afflicted persons; harassment and assault whether verbally, physically, or psychologically, and stigmatization.
According to Belmonte, the refusal of any person to honor valid and existing contracts will also be considered an unlawful act.
Persons found guilty of harassment or assault face a maximum ten year imprisonment or a fine of not less than P200,000 and maximum of P1 million.
Committing discriminatory practices carries a penalty of six years maximum imprisonment or P500,000 fine, or both.