Nationwide round-up (03/22/21)

HEALTH workers from private and public hospitals and other frontliners in Quezon City get their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Mar. 22 as the city, along with the rest of Metro Manila, battle a renewed surge in coronavirus cases. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

Health, palace officials assure all private firms will be allowed to buy COVID-19 vaccines

ALL private companies are allowed to procure coronavirus vaccines through a tripartite agreement with the government, the Department of Health (DoH) said Monday. “We are not blocking their procurement, they are included in the provisions that they can purchase through a tripartite agreement with the national government,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said in an online briefing Monday. Senator Maria Imelda Josefa R. Marcos in a statement on Saturday, claimed that the DoH and the national task force handling the coronavirus response are blocking companies engaged in tobacco, milk, sugar, and soft drinks, among others, from buying vaccines for their workers, citing the draft implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for Republic Act No. 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021. “The NTF, together with the DoH shall review the requests of private entities to procure vaccines to ensure that private entities who will be part of the agreement are not in any way related to the tobacco industry, products covered under EO 51 series of 1986 or the National Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, Breastmilk Supplement and Other Related Products or other industries in conflict with public health,” according to the draft, a copy of which was released to the media by Ms. Marcos.

Presidential Spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said in a televised press briefing on Monday that the draft rules have been “amended.” The tripartite agreement among the vaccine supplier, government, and private firm is necessary as all coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines are currently under emergency use authorization and not for commercial distribution. Private firms are also required to donate a percentage of their vaccine purchase to the government. “At the end of the day, wala pong mawawalan. Lahat po ng ating mga kababayan bibigyan ng bakuna ng gobyerno (everyone will be provided with a vaccine by the government), whether it be procured by the private or procured by the national government,” Ms. Vergeire said. Iloilo Representative Janette L. Garin, a former Health secretary, has also criticized the draft guidelines saying such prohibition will further delay the goal of achieving herd immunity. “It shouldn’t even be considered. Public health ang pinag uusapan dito (is what’s at stake here). Draft or not, we should be inclusive to achieve herd immunity,” she said. Herd immunity, according to health experts, can be attained by inoculating at least 70% of the population. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Gillian M. Cortez, and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Retiring chief justice says goals done

RETIRING Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta said the goals he set out to achieve for the judiciary are in place, including securing the tenure of Supreme Court employees, policies to prevent corruption, and improving the courts’ responsiveness. “We have restructured and streamlined the plantilla of various offices, divisions, and services of the court so as to guarantee security of tenure for the employees and to improve our processes. We have established the Judiciary Public Assistance Section… to promptly receive and act on concerns, issues, suggestions, and other relevant matters including complaints against erring court officials and employees,” he said Monday in his farewell message during the traditional weekly flag ceremony. “We have proven that with our determination and willingness to adopt innovations, this pandemic is not and will never be an obstacle in the fulfillment of our sworn duties as public servants,” he said. Mr. Peralta was appointed to the Supreme Court’s top post on Oct. 23, 2019 and his early retirement takes effect Mar. 27, a year ahead of the compulsory retirement age of 70 for justices. He has yet to disclose the reason for his early retirement. He spent 34 years in the judiciary as a prosecutor, trial court judge, justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, and associate justice of the Supreme Court before taking the chief justice seat. — Bianca Angelica D. Anago

Lawyers propose reforms on issuance, use of search warrants

LAWYERS have submitted to the Supreme Court proposed reforms on the application, implementation, and post-execution of search warrants following the recent killings and arrests of activists in simultaneous police operations based on search warrants. In a letter sent to the high court Monday, they sought “that the Honorable Court review the procedure in the issuance of search warrants towards ensuring that these are not issued perfunctorily but only after rigorous scrutiny by the courts, in accordance with constitutional standards and procedural safeguards, and bearing in mind the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.” The letter was drafted by National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) President Edre U. Olalia and NUPL Chairperson Neri J. Colmenares, and signed by 139 lawyers. Among their suggestions are a “rigorous examination of claims by the police or military applicants and their informants,” and a review — in coordination with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, other lawyers’ groups, and relevant civil society organizations — of the authority of judges to issue warrants applicable in areas outside of their jurisdiction. They also sought proper documentation of the execution of warrants using any video-recording device.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has suspended the oral arguments on the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 scheduled on Tuesday “due to the alarming increase of COVID cases.” The hearings will resume Apr. 6. — Bianca Angelica D. Anago

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