Lower House approves on final reading proposed virology science institute

The House of Representatives delivered on one of the legislative priorities listed by President Rodrigo Duterte in last Monday’s State of the Nation Address when it passed on third and final reading the bill proposing the establishment of the Philippine Virology Science and Technology Institute.

Virus vaccine

With 198 congressmen voting in the affirmative, House Bill 9559 or the Virology Institute of the Philippines Act approved and will be transmitted to the Senate to await approval of a counterpart measure.

Nobody registered a negative vote or abstention during the plenary session on Wednesday, July 28.

Authors of the measure said the VIP will be in the forefront of the fight against viruses as it focuses on key development areas for virology science and technology applications in plants, animals and humans.

On Monday, Duterte asked Congress to treat the passage of the VIP measure with urgency.

HB 9559 consolidated ten separate legislative proposals that will establish the PVST which will develop the Philippines’ capability and self-reliance in the field of virology. The new agency will be under the Department of Science and Technology.

Among the authors of the bill are Reps. Leonardo Babasa Jr. (2nd District, Zamboanga del Sur); Ron Salo (Kabayan Partylist) ; Cheryl Deloso-Montalla (2nd District, Zambales); Rufus Rodriguez (2nd District, Cagayan de Oro City) and Angelina Tan (4th District, Quezon).

Tan, chairperson of the House Committee on Health, sponsored the bill that received unanimous approval before Congress adjourned sine die last week.

An initial funding of P283 million has been sought for the establishment of the VIP. The proposed budget is already included in the 2021 National Expenditure Program.

Among the functions of the VIP include serving as convener for the formulation of the National Virology Research Agenda and the conduct of scientific and technology research in the field of virology.

The institute will also conduct produce research and development in the areas of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Babasa said the current 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID 19) outbreak has exposed the weaknesses of the country’s science and research capabilities.

“This is due to very few studies and limited information on viral pathogenesis; risk factors for infection; the natural history of disease including clinical presentation and outcomes; modes and extent of virus inter-human transmissions, effective preventive measures, among others,” he explained.

Deloso-Montalla, chairperson of the house Committee on Revision of Laws, said the proposed institute will also be tasked to become the reference laboratory for animal and plant virology studies.

“This will enable our country to be equipped with the knowledge about viral agents in plants and animals and their economic implications to agriculture,” Montalla said.