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Sonny M. Angara

159 posts
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—nine years as representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.
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Restoring damaged heritage sites

Last July, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook many provinces in Northern Luzon. It was strong enough to be felt in Metro Manila and even adjacent provinces like Cavite and Laguna. The temblor was both massive and deadly as it caused at least 11 deaths, 615 injuries, 33,000 displaced individuals and at least P1.8 billion in damages per news reports. To illustrate its effect, Phivolcs said that an earthquake of such scale overturns and topples heavy objects and furniture, makes it difficult for people on upper floors to stand, and causes slight damage to well-built structures and considerable damage to old or poorly-built structures.

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Addressing youth unemployment

Recently, the Senate Committee on Youth that we chair convened its first meeting and public hearing. Among the measures that were tackled was our Senate Resolution No. 155, seeking an inquiry on the state of youth unemployment and underemployment in the country.

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Moving toward high-value industries and higher-paying jobs

Over the past three years, I have been advocating for a transformation among our industries—from one that produces common, low-value goods to one that churns out complex, high-value products. We dubbed this Tatak Pinoy (“Proudly Filipino”), which embodies our vision and ambition to see Philippine industries, entrepreneurs, professionals, workers, artisans and farmers becoming globally competitive so that the country can export more complex, high-value products and services.

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Triumphant Filipino para-athletes

August 6, 2022 marked the conclusion of the 11th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Para Games held in Surakarta, Indonesia. The Para Games are a biennial multi-sport tournament featuring differently-abled athletes from the region held after every SEA Games. More than a tournament, it is a display of how these individuals courageously overcome their disabilities to triumph in their respective sports.

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Giving back to the elderly

Recently, we received some good news that among several bills that recently lapsed into law was the increase in the social pension for indigent senior citizens from the present P500 to P1,000 per month or from P6,000 to P12,000 annually. We filed this bill early in the 18th Congress as Senate Bill 133 and it is now officially known as Republic Act 11916.

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Consultations with the MSME sector

IN preparation for the 19th Congress, my office recently convened a consultative meeting focused on micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in line with our Tatak Pinoy advocacy. The roundtable discussion was headlined by former Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion and attended by officials from various government agencies, MSME mentors, and small business proprietors. The avowed aim of the meeting was to give the attendees a venue to sound off on their views and recommendations on how the Go Negosyo Act (RA 10644) could be further improved, nearly a decade since it was enacted. 

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A lasting friendship

Last week, our country, with representatives from the Kingdom of Spain led by the Spanish Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Jorge Moragas Sanchez, physically gathered in Baler, Aurora to celebrate the 20th Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day and the 123rd Anniversary of the Historic Siege of Baler.

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Hitting the ground running  

Throughout the 18th Congress, we worked hard to come up with laws that respond to the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as benefit a wide range of sectors. Not all of our proposed legislations get approved, as in every Congress. Several measures are taken up during committee hearings. Some are debated in plenary, and even get enacted into law. Many more are not taken up at all.

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The Pandemic Congress

The 18th Congress officially came to a close this week, as the chambers started to welcome the newest batch of legislators—comprised of both old and new faces—tasked with advancing the interests and advocacies of their constituents nationwide.  

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Political will

With just a few days left before the new administration formally takes over, one of the topics that has remained abuzz throughout public discussions and social media chatter is about the incoming cabinet of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. 

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Navigating towards a digital world

The 18th Congress recently concluded its work. And despite the pandemic, we can say that a lot has been accomplished across three very tumultuous years. As Chairman of the Committee on Finance, we ensured that the budget was enacted on time. More importantly, in response to Covid-19, we increased funding for life-saving health services and products like vaccines, as well as for crucial assistance such as fuel subsidies and other forms of much-needed ayuda—without sacrificing other government projects or programs.   

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Sustaining Team Philippines’ momentum

The 31st Southeast Asian Games held in Hanoi, Vietnam recently concluded with the Philippines almost securing a podium finish. We ranked fourth in the overall tally with 226 medals in total, behind host Vietnam (first), Thailand (second), and Indonesia (third). While this outing is three spots below and 161 medals fewer than our 1st place finish in the 2019 SEA Games, the latest result is the country’s best (as a non-host) since the 22nd SEA Games, also held in Hanoi almost two decades ago when we achieved the same 4th place finish.

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Continuity in our economic policy

Elections, given that they mark transitions in our society, do often trigger periods of soul-searching and reflection. They can also be very emotional affairs, not least because the prospect of new political leaders taking the helm can elicit either anticipation or anxiety. 

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Moving forward, together

When my late father, former Senator Edgardo J. Angara, retired from public service in 2013, he said something worth remembering during these times: “Good politics is also marked by close collaboration between the branches of government.” He was talking about his time as Senate President under the Ramos administration, where he challenged his colleagues in Congress, and the Executive, to set aside discord and cooperate on a legislative agenda that was needed for the country’s economic recovery.

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Enhancing our pandemic resilience

Earlier this year, we filed Senate Resolution 974 calling for an inquiry on the state of health financing in the country to determine needed legislation for strengthening our health-care system. While Congress was on recess for the national campaign, our office conducted numerous consultative meetings with government agencies, private sector proponents and stakeholders to follow through on the resolution’s objectives.    

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The search for alternative energy sources

IN March, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) cautioned that the surge in crude oil prices globally could lead to an increase in the generation charge. In fact, just this month, the distributor already announced an increase in the per kilowatt-hour (kWh) charge. Surely, this has since resulted in consumers scrambling to find ways to make do with a tighter budget amid the warmest season of the year. All this has only amplified longstanding calls for the country to find alternative sources of energy, such as renewables.

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A four-day workweek in the post-pandemic era

AS our economy continues to reopen in the face of dwindling Covid-19 cases, the country is now faced with very high fuel prices due to global supply issues caused by the ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This has led to even higher food, utilities, and transport costs—with inflation hitting a six-month high in March. These developments pose significant challenges to ongoing efforts at reviving our ailing economy. More importantly, they add to the heavy burden many Filipinos are still carrying on account of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

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Reviving Philippine tourism

Among the many economic sectors affected by the pandemic, Philippine tourism was hit the hardest. International Labour Organization (ILO) Asia-Pacific Regional Director Chihoko-Asada Miyakawa described the impact of the global health crisis on the industry as “nothing short of catastrophic” with some 1.4 million tourism-related jobs in the country. In 2020, revenue losses peaked at P1.54 trillion according to Department of Tourism (DOT), with arrivals dropping to less than 2 million in the same year or four times less than the 2019 figure of 8.2 million.

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Women empowerment in the Philippines

The Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has long been a barometer for how well a country or an economy upholds equality between men and women—particularly in terms of economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

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Vaccinating into the new normal

Recently, the country loosened many of its Covid-related restrictions on account of two factors—infection numbers have been declining in the past few weeks, and that we are inching closer to vaccinating 70 percent of all Filipinos. The National Task Force against Covid-19 (NTF) reported that some 63.6 million individuals have been fully vaccinated or about 83 percent of the 77-million target population for the first quarter of this year as of March 7, 2022. The National Capital Region (NCR), Regions 1, 2, 3, and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) are among those with more than 80 percent of their population with completed shots.

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Relief from oil price hikes

Over the past month, we have seen a drop in the number of new Covid-19 cases, a decline in the hospitalization of people with severe or critical ailments brought about by the virus, and arguably the early signs of the revitalization of our economy.

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Providing dignity in aging

Recognizing the impact and contributions of our senior citizens to the overall growth of the country, my father—former Senate President Edgardo Angara—authored Republic Act 7432 or the Senior Citizens Act of 1992, which provided benefits and privileges to our elderly. This, later on, became part of my father’s legacy and is now remembered by many as the “Angara Law.”

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On mental health and well-being

San Beda University recently held the fourth Edgardo J. Angara Memorial Public Lecture on Public Policy as part of its Venerable Bede discussion series. Conducted online and livestreamed, the lecture’s theme was on nurturing holistic health and well-being at home and in the workplace—a very timely topic, in light of the disruptions caused by the ongoing humanitarian crisis.  

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Responding to the learning crisis

Recently, the Department of Education (DepEd) authorized its regional units to begin the progressive expansion of face-to-face classes in public schools found in areas under Alert Levels 1 and 2 for Covid-19.  This means that more grade levels could soon be included in this expansion.  

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Gearing up for new youth programs

WE recently chaired a Senate Committee on Youth public hearing on measures that we believe could have a tremendous impact on young Filipinos, many of whom, for the past two years, have spent a considerable portion of their time indoors, and isolated from crowds and gatherings.  

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RA 11635–Saving private schools from excessive taxation

Last December 2021, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act (RA) 11635, which amends Section 27(B) of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997. This particular section of the NIRC deals with the tax treatment of proprietary educational institutions or private schools and non-profit hospitals. As the principal author of the law, we are elated with the support given by the President to the measure and in hearing the appeals made by the private school operators to save them from closure during these very challenging times.

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The need for improved testing

Ever since Covid-19 cases started to surge with the coming of the New Year, anecdotal reports have since emerged about delayed RT-PCR results and long queues in swabbing stations. Our colleague, Sen. Ping Lacson, even tweeted about waiting for two days for results—before deciding to just get another swab in the hopes of getting more prompt feedback.

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A shared responsibility

AS of the writing of this column, the Department of Health (DOH) reported more than 10,000 new cases of Covid-19 infections, with a positivity rate of 31.7 percent (which apparently is a record high for the country). These numbers push up the active cases to nearly 40,000, which is the highest they’ve been since early November of last year. While roughly 33,800 of these cases have been categorized as mild, the utilization rates of ICU beds, isolation facilities, wards, and ventilators are climbing—hopefully not to dangerous levels. 

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More leeway for our schools

Recently, the Senate ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the 2022 budget, which we sponsored as Chairman of the Committee on Finance. Soon it will be transmitted to the Executive, with enough time for the president to affix his signature before the year ends.   

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Towards a more inclusive education system

The Senate recently ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the Inclusive Education Act, which aims to institutionalize a policy of inclusion and services for learners with disabilities (LWD) across the country’s education sector. 

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Strengthening our Covid-19 response

IN the past week, we sponsored the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the proposed national budget for 2022. Interpellations on the different agency budgets have since started and are expected to wrap up within the coming weeks. Notably, what we’re debating is the last budget proposed and to be implemented by the administration of President Duterte. And we’re working hard to ensure that what gets approved will help fast track the return to normalcy away from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

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Helping MSMEs during the pandemic

During our recent hearing on the 2022 budget of the Department of Trade and Industry, Sec. Mon Lopez noted that 16 percent of micro, small and medium enterprises were closed due to the pandemic—a significant portion coming from the National Capital Region (NCR). With over 60 percent of the country’s employment generated by MSMEs, the DTI says around 300,000 to 500,000 jobs were lost and this figure would be even bigger if the unregistered businesses are taken into consideration. There are around 2 million MSMEs registered with the DTI and an estimated 6 million unregistered businesses, which include those from the informal sector.

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Decongesting Philippine prisons

During the public hearing on the 2022 budgets of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its attached agencies, the Senate was updated on the alarming congestion rate of our jails and penal institutions. For one, the New Bilibid Prison, our national penitentiary, has a congestion rate of 344 percent. In exact figures, this means that Bilibid currently houses 28,545 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), which greatly exceeds its ideal capacity of only 6,435. The same can be said for the rest of the Bureau of Corrections’ (BuCor) managed prisons since the average congestion rate for all seven operating prisons and penal farms, including the NBP, is already at 303 percent.

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A new dawn for Marawi City

This October 23 marks the fourth year since Marawi City was freed from the lawless elements that sought to turn the locality into a wilayat or an “administrative division” of the ISIS caliphate. On that day, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declared the city’s liberation marking the end of armed hostilities and violence between government troops and ISIS-inspired groups and, most importantly, the start of Marawi’s recovery.

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The pandemic response should be the highest priority

A September 2021 Bloomberg article on what the next six months of the Covid-19 pandemic will bring provides a very sobering reminder that is especially critical now as the Philippines takes steps to gradually reopen the economy and relax the tight restrictions of the community quarantines. 

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Health-care lessons from Costa Rica

With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, many can’t help but ask how some countries were able to curb the deadly disease while others struggled (and continue to struggle) to do so and prevent exponential loss of life and livelihood. In this regard, a recent article in The New Yorker about Costa Rica’s public health-care system could prove to be informative. 

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A fitting tribute for our seafarers

After languishing in the legislative mill for over a decade, the bill institutionalizing a Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which we co-sponsored, has finally reached the plenary debates in the Senate. We laud Sen. Joel Villanueva, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources, for his hard work and savvy in crafting a version that balances the interests of all stakeholders involved to meaningfully define and uphold the rights, minimum standards of work, and compulsory benefits of sea-based Filipino workers.

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A budget for dealing with the Delta variant

IT is that time of the year again when we in Congress start buckling down to work on what some consider to be the most important law that we pass year in and year out—the country’s national budget. To emphasize just how important this measure is, in the Senate, the traditional practice is for all the attention to be on the deliberations on the proposed budget of the different agencies and government offices, meaning all the other hearings take a back seat as much as possible.

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Moving towards digital payments

BY the time this column comes out, two of the country’s biggest e-commerce platforms—Lazada and Shopee—would be wrapping up their respective “9.9” (September 9) online sales, where customers can purchase almost anything at either discounted rates or with free shipping. 

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A simpler land titling system

The Duterte administration has enacted several decisive measures aimed at making government processes simpler, more efficient, and more responsive to the Filipino peoples’ needs. One was signed in July—Republic Act (RA) 11573, which simplified our land titling system by improving the confirmation process of so-called imperfect titles or those that do not convey full legal transfer of a parcel of land or real estate onto its bearer.

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The importance of the Olympics

Last July, New York Times columnist Lindsey Crouse wrote that despite the issues that constantly surround the Olympics—like the exorbitant amounts countries spend to host the quadrennial event; the doping scandals that were fueled by it; the way certain sports officials enriched themselves before the athletes; or how for this iteration, residents protested the decision to continue the Games on account of the pandemic—she was still going to watch it this year.

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A multi-medal haul

With the Tokyo Olympics winding down this weekend, our countrymen are already reveling at the fact that for the first time in nearly a century, Team Philippines will be coming home with multiple medals. 

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Dealing with the Delta variant

AT the time this article was being written, Philippine health authorities have detected no less than 114 infections of the Covid-19 Delta variant in the country. This particular strain, first detected in India in October 2020, is among the “variants of concern” identified by the World Health Organization (WHO), which are are more infectious, even to the point of infecting those who have been fully vaccinated.

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More venues for licensure exams

Unlike other countries that have already vaccinated a significant portion of their population, the Philippines still finds itself in the early stages of its nationwide vaccination program mainly due to the limited supply of doses. According to recent data from our health authorities, around 65.3 million or 93 percent of the 70 million target population for 2021 have yet to be fully vaccinated.

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A pensionado program for our bright youth

Eighteen-year-old Dominic Navarro graduated with honors from the Ilocos Region campus of the Philippine Science High School last May. Dominic is one of several who went through the PSHS system and were offered admission to some of the world’s most prestigious universities. This is no easy task, as getting in is already a huge achievement in itself.

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A learners’ crisis

Recently, news articles came out about a very disconcerting World Bank assessment on Philippine education. Specifically, the report underscored that one in every four Grade 5 students does not have the reading and mathematics skills for Grade 2 or 3, and four in every five 15-year-old students do not understand basic mathematical concepts such as fractions and decimals that should be known by fifth graders.

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A whole-of-nation immunization campaign

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund declared that the polio outbreak in the Philippines has ended after the country recorded zero cases for 16 months since surveillance and an immunization campaign were launched.

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Mental health–A continuing priority

Three years ago, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act, which we co-authored and helped pass along with my colleagues Senators Tito Sotto, JV Ejercito, Joel Villanueva, Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes and Bam Aquino.

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Unspent Bayanihan 2 funds

When we passed the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) back in August of 2020, every one of us in Congress understood that we had to act swiftly in order to address the urgent needs of all the sectors affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Schools on the brink

Last March, President Duterte enacted into law Republic Act 11534, more widely known as the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises or CREATE Act. Certified at the time as urgent by Malacañang, the law was touted as one of the government’s critical interventions to keep the country’s economy afloat amid the pandemic.

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The fight against fake news and misinformation

IN September last year, the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) of Barangay Balaya in San Carlos City, Pangasinan installed WiFi modems at several locations in their village to provide Internet connectivity so the youth can more easily attend their online classes.

The case for artificial intelligence

Imagine this: On your next grocery trip (wearing a face mask, of course), you pick up an item listed on your shopping list. You put it in your bag. And then you walk out of the store to accomplish the rest of your day’s errands. In this instance, no crime was committed because the product you picked up was automatically identified by in-store sensors and algorithms of deep learning machines, and charged to your account through an app in your smartphone. What appears to be science fiction is, in fact, a reality in many US cities where Amazon Go stores are located. And this reality is increasingly powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

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Asia’s fastest-growing companies

The Financial Times, together with Nikkei Asia and Statista, recently came out with its ranking of High-Growth Companies in the Asia-Pacific region. To be included in the list, a company must meet the following criteria—generated revenue of at least $1 million in 2019; must be an independent company, meaning it is not a subsidiary or branch office of any kind; should be headquartered in any one of the 11 territories in the Asia-Pacific region; and revenue growth between 2016 and 2019 should be primarily organic or internally generated.

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Hunger alleviation through the community pantry

We, Filipinos, are not known to easily give up. And in the face of adversity, we as a community are able to overcome either by helping each other out or receiving help from our kapwa. We have witnessed this in the past week or so with the emergence of the viral idea of the “Community Pantry”—a collective effort that exemplifies the spirit of Bayanihan amid the sporadic lockdowns. The numerous carts and tables that have sprung in various parts of the archipelago provide for our kababayans’ immediate needs and help quell hunger during these trying times.

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Self-reliance in food

Recently, the Senate Committee of the Whole (COW), led by Senate President Tito Sotto, conducted two extensive hearings on the African swine fever (ASF) that continues to be a perennial threat not only to the local hog industry but also to the country’s food security.

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Digital transformation in government

Earlier this week, the Anti-Red Tape Authority, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government signed a joint memorandum circular enjoining all local government units (LGUs) to automate their Business Processing and Licensing Systems and setup an electronic Business One-Stop Shop (eBoss) by June 17 this year.

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Digital transformation in government

Earlier this week, the Anti-Red Tape Authority, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government signed a joint memorandum circular enjoining all local government units (LGUs) to automate their Business Processing and Licensing Systems and setup an electronic Business One-Stop Shop (eBoss) by June 17 this year.

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Remote work for recovery?

The recent Decoding Global Talent survey by JobStreet has revealed some interesting employment trends amid the pandemic. For one, there is a global downtrend observed in people’s willingness to work abroad. Where in the 2018 edition of the survey 57 percent of respondents said that they were willing to work abroad, this had fallen to 50 percent in the recent round. Interestingly, the drop is a lot more pronounced in the Philippines. Where willingness among Filipino respondents to migrate for employment was 75 percent in 2018, in 2020 this had fallen to 54 percent.

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Our work is far from over

Last February, in anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8 and National Women’s Month here in the Philippines, Grant Thornton International released its 2021 Women in Business report.

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On Covid-19 vaccines

According to the February 24 Bloomberg data, some 213 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have already been administered across 95 countries. And with an average inoculation rate of 6.1 million a day, it was estimated that it will take 5.1 years before global herd immunity—where at least 75 percent of the world’s population is vaccinated—will be achieved.

Lost opportunities and the youth

Last week, we wrote about the myriad ways the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made our youth even more vulnerable than before. Over the past year, this was manifested in increasing cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC); teenage pregnancies; failure to enroll and the possible ballooning of out-of-school youth; and reported difficulties with the current blended system of learning.

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The youth made even more vulnerable

Earlier this year, one of our Senate seatmates, Sen. Win Gatchalian, called attention to disturbing reports of school children selling sexually exploitative material of themselves to pay for distance-learning expenses, such as gadgets and Internet connectivity.

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Keeping our guard up

Now that vaccines against the Covid-19 virus will soon be available, some may think we can finally lower our guard and put the pandemic behind us. But it’s very possible that this mindset is what’s driving the recent uptake in new cases in the country. Just this Wednesday, for instance, more than 2,200 new cases were recorded, accounting for the largest single-day increase since November 8 last year.

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The digital transition could start at the LGU level

The future is digital. When the Covid-19 pandemic required strict quarantine guidelines, it was no surprise that business, financial, and even personal transactions went online. One need only to look into how more Filipinos now regularly use their mobile phones and computers to shop, do their groceries, and even transact with their banks. Our government processes and services should follow suit.

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Our gaps in health care should be addressed now

Our experience in the past year demonstrated how shortages of beds, equipment, and health-care workers severely affect our response to large-scale medical crises. If anything, the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized that medical facilities across the country urgently need to be upgraded.

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Additional funding for the Philippine Children’s Medical Center

The heart of Philippine culture is the family, and children are often the most cherished and protected. Hence, when a child is born with a congenital health condition, or suddenly develops a serious disease, it is an extremely difficult situation for parents and relatives. It is even more tragic when the family does not have the resources for the necessary medical services.

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A budget for recovery

All of Congress saw the urgency of approving the 2021 national budget on time. After all, too much was at stake. The economy needs to bounce back after its historic slump in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and any delay in the budget’s passage would be akin to throwing a monkey wrench in the recovery process.

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The Christmas spirit is service

Christmas is the greatest story of a promise fulfilled. For many Filipinos, it is the embodiment of God’s greatest gift: his only Son becoming mortal, to serve as the instrument of our salvation.  By following the example of Jesus Christ, whose life was dedicated to love and service, we all become instruments of salvation as well, for others and ourselves. That is what we should be reminded of during the season—that all of us are called to serve each other, in one way or another.

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Funding new laws

The reconciled 2021 budget that Congress has approved is currently awaiting the President’s signature. We have worked diligently to ensure that through this budget, assistance is extended in a timely manner to those who have been affected by calamity, poverty, disease, and homelessness in the past year. We have also funded laws and bills that will have far-reaching impacts on the lives of Filipinos.

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The untapped potential of our blue economy

IN July 2019, at the beginning of the 18th  Congress, we filed Senate Resolution 10, calling for the appropriate Senate committees to conduct an inventory and inquiry into the government’s initiatives related to our seas and oceans. Our primary aim in calling for such an inventory was to formulate a comprehensive national policy for the sustainable development of our blue economy.

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Upgrading our public libraries for the next normal

Education has always been an important aspect of Filipino culture. How many times have we heard that a good education is the most important inheritance parents can give to their children? But now, in the Next Normal that Covid-19 has brought, education as we know it has become problematic.

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Digital payments stepping-stones to the next normal

The Next Normal will no doubt require a radical rethinking of how we approach interactions services, including how we make and receive payments. Digital payment systems offer the best approach for streamlining financial transactions, and will make it easier for us to keep a safe distance from others.

Community service as a multilevel solution

Any crime, if proven to be true, should be given the proper punishment—such as incarceration—with circumstances in consideration. Sometimes, however, the act of imprisoning someone may prove to be detrimental to the person’s well-being or may even encourage more criminal behavior. This is why we need productive and positive solutions, rather than solely relying on imprisonment for criminal justice.

Culture as an economic resource

The Senate’s Finance Committee recently had a hearing on the 2021 budgets of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and its attached agencies. There, I encouraged the NCCA to coordinate with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) on an ongoing project to paint murals on the walls and banks along the Pasig River. I also suggested that the project be expanded to murals on the walls of major thoroughfares, like Edsa or even C5.

Ensuring Filipinnovation becomes a growth driver

The Philippines’s performance in the recently released 2020 Global Innovation Index (GII)  is encouraging, as we ranked 50th out of 131 economies—our best showing ever, in this regard. This ranking also marks the second year that we have been identified as an innovation achiever, performing at a much higher level than what is expected given our level of economic development. 

The 2020 Human Capital Index Report

People are a nation’s key resource. The healthier, better educated and empowered a population is, the more likely a nation will be prosperous and developed. This is what the Human Capital Index is about. The HCI is a regular World Bank report that ranks countries according to how well they develop the economic and professional capabilities of their own population. It delves into many factors, such as health and education.

Bridging the digital skills divide

Our understanding of the digital world defines how we access it. The less we understand how it works and what’s possible within it, the fewer the chances there are to reap its benefits in full. Fast Internet connections and low-cost smartphones mean nothing if we cannot partake of the economic possibilities the online world offers. That’s a dimension of the “digital divide” that isn’t discussed as much—the digital skills gap.

Digital payment: Safety, efficiency in the next normal

A recent article in The Economist focused on one of the game-changing effects of the Covid-19 global pandemic—the need to digitize government services. With the pandemic effectively shutting down physical interaction, government services have to be available in the virtual world. This is particularly important when it comes to releasing government benefits that can help Filipinos survive the economic effects of the pandemic.

Bayanihan 2–Keeping the economy going


The Covid-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, is a historical and global turning point. The term “new normal,” in fact, is a telling indicator of just how much has changed. For the pandemic affects not only a person’s health, but also his or her ability to work, travel, interact in public spaces, and become a productive citizen.

Bayanihan 2: Strengthening our health response against Covid-19


AS this paper goes to print, the tally of Covid-19 cases in the country is most likely to have breached the 200,000 mark already—a little more than three weeks after surpassing the 100,000 mark earlier this month. More than 130,000 have recovered, yes, but there are still more than 61,000 active cases. One should not also discount that more than 3,000 Filipinos have already died due to the virus. We clearly have much more to do to fight this pandemic. This is why it’s important that the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act—or Bayanihan 2, which we sponsored and defended—is now awaiting the President’s signature.

Leaving big cities–Part of the new normal?


A young couple in London was interviewed in a recent CNN Business article about their decision to move out of the city—something unheard of practically a few months back. As the article explains, many people have tolerated the smaller living spaces combined with the noise and pollution, in exchange for the vibrant culture and lifestyle that London provides. But the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted exactly those things, with many social activities and businesses limited in capacity. Hence, such an upheaval has prompted many city dwellers to consider living elsewhere. 

What must be done about PhilHealth


It was only last year that the fraudulent claims of WellMed Dialysis & Laboratory Center Corp. came to a head with the National Bureau of Investigation filing complaints of estafa and falsification of public documents against the said company on June 11, 2019. Apparently, WellMed had been filing medical claims with the PhilHealth on behalf of deceased patients, or patients who had not been getting their full weekly treatments.

Encouraging digital careers


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our society, especially our employment and economic realities. The April 2020 Labor Force Survey from the Philippine Statistics Authority said the unemployment rate rose to 17.7 percent, which translates to around 7.3 million Filipinos being out of work. To compare, in January 2020, the unemployment rate stood only at 5.3 percent. Sadly, these numbers paint a mere glimpse of the horrible damage that the pandemic—and the ensuing lockdowns—has done to our economy.

Better health care first


The Philippines currently has the highest number of active Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Indonesia may have registered the highest total number of cases overall, but their 37,083 active cases as of July 22 makes them only second in the region to our 45,646.

Helping the unseen


OF the many who are bearing the economic brunt of the months-long lockdown, the informal sector has probably had it worse than others. The very nature of their employment makes them invisible to the eyes of government, and hence, they do not immediately receive monetary aid or wage subsidy. For instance, throughout the first tranche of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), local government units staff were requiring certificates of employment (COE) from supposed beneficiaries—a step which only made it difficult for the freelance plumbers, repairmen, construction workers, street vendors, and many more who desperately needed support.  

Saving lives with convalescent plasma


Plasma is the liquid portion of our blood, comprising up to 55 percent. It is mostly water, containing vital substances like hormones and nutrients. It also carries antibodies, a type of protein synthesized by a person’s immune system to help the body fight off foreign substances like viruses.

Travel coronavirus, travel bubble, Philippines

Restarting tourism: Industrial change and travel bubbles

Thailand is considering travel bubbles with nations where Covid-19 is largely contained such as China, South Korea, and Vietnam, although initial travel may be focused more for medical and business purposes. Vietnam, on the other hand, is planning to bring in international visitors on a trial basis, with Phu Quoc Island as the test destination. International tourists would have to undergo a Covid-19 test, but they will be able to move freely on the island—but only there.
Repeaters on a metal tower. Camiguin, Philippines

Building the digital foundations for our new normal

The Covid-19 pandemic has now become, whether we want it or not, a global instigator for change. In our country, the pandemic has brought to light the strengths and weaknesses of our current digital infrastructure, and how well (or not) we make use of the connectivity the Internet provides.

Determining the economic stimulus we need


IT is now painfully obvious that it will take no insignificant time for our country to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Just as the virus can ravage the patient’s body, the pandemic itself has seriously hit the Philippine economy. Who among us here have not heard of a shop or restaurant that is permanently closing due to the financial stress of the quarantine? Even worse, this trend is ongoing, as various establishments are still closing, even now as we relax our quarantine guidelines.

A disturbing lack of urgency


When we crafted the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, we included there certain forms of emergency compensation for our medical frontliners—because we knew that no matter how careful they would be, some of them would get sick, or sadly fall in the fight against Covid-19.

The challenge of mass testing


IT is common sense that in order for us to fight an enemy properly, we have to gather as much information as possible. The Covid-19 pandemic is currently our country’s greatest enemy, and while we are discovering how to fight it from the point of view of medical technology, what we really want to know is how many boots on the ground does Covid-19 have. We have to have an idea, statistically, of how many are infected, and where. And that means we have to do mass testing.