PH gets WB aid to fight disease

The World Bank said Wednesday it has committed $100 million (about P5.15 billion) in aid to the Philippines to fight the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a statement, the Department of Finance said the amount would enable the Department of Health to procure personal protective equipment for health care workers, along with testing and laboratory materials, quarantine areas, isolation rooms and other essential equipment to contain the spread of the disease.

The funds under the World Bank’s Fast Track COVID-19 Facility can be made available to the DOH in a matter of weeks.

At the direction of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, a team led by Undersecretary Mark Joven met last week with Achim Fock, the World Bank acting country director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, to outline possible financing options to help the government address the threat of COVID-19.

Health officials said the virus has infected 187 people and killed 14 as of Wednesday morning. Six who had earlier tested positive for COVID-19 recovered from the disease.

On March 3, the World Bank announced that it was making available an initial package of up to $12 billion in immediate support to help countries cope with the COVID-19 global outbreak.

Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team unveiled a P27.1 billion package to help frontliners fight the pandemic and provide economic relief to people and sectors affected by the virus-induced slowdown in economic activity.

The package consists of government initiatives to better equip health workers to fight COVID-19, provide relief to those infected by the disease, and offer assistance to sectors now reeling from the fallout from the outbreak.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., meanwhile, said China has committed to donate 100,000 testing kits, 10,000 N95 masks, 10,000 pieces of personal protective equipment and 100,000 surgical masks.

On his Twitter account, Locsin said China would be chartering a flight to the Philippines to bring the donations.

This followed an announcement Monday by Senator Manny Pacquiao, who said Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has pledged to donate 50,000 test kits through his foundation to combat the virus here.

Party-list congressmen also donated P5 million worth of protective items to health workers in Metro Manila and other provinces affected by COVID-19.

In a statement, the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. said its members would donate 150,000 N95 masks, 1,300 goggles, 40,000 pairs of gloves and 1,300 sets of personal protective equipment.

Among the recipients were the military and police health installations, the Philippine General Hospital, the Philippine Heart Center for Asia and other government medical centers where budgetary and audit regulations prevent them from procuring the items swiftly.

At the same time, the party-list legislators expressed approval for the holding of on-line sessions of Congress.

At the same time, party-list Rep. Michael Defensor said state workers will soon receive their mid-year bonus equal to a month’s basic pay.

“Our sense is, it is precisely because of this forthcoming availability of the mid-year incentive for public sector workers that Malacañang addressed its call for the early release of the statutory 13th month pay only to the private sector,” Defensor said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged private establishments to consider advancing the 13th month pay of their employees to help them through the government-imposed containment measures that would cut their income.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado on Tuesday said he has not received any directive from Malacañang to advance the 13th month pay of civil servants.

Senator Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, said workers in the private sector displaced by the community quarantine imposed in different parts of the country stand to receive a P5,000 lump-sum financial assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment.

He said the amount will go a long way for workers, especially those who fall under the category of no work, no pay. This will keep them confined in their homes while the government grapples to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We credit the Labor Department for its swift response to the issue,” said Villanueva, who wrote to DOLE on Monday to access its emergency employment programs given the Luzon-wide lockdown.

He said workers continue to push their luck by leaving their houses to go to work because they have to provide for their families.

“With this financial assistance, we are appealing to our workers to stay in their homes,” Villanueva said.

Department Order No. 209 covers the guidelines on DOLE’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), which the lawmaker urged the department to tap to provide assistance to thousands of displaced workers.

Workers covered by the order include retained workers having reduced working hours due to the implementation of flexible working arrangements by employers, and workers whose employment has been suspended due to the temporary shutdown of their employer’s operation, according to the guidelines.

Affected workers, regardless of employment status, will be given P5,000 as a one-time unconditional financial assistance in lump-sum, the guidelines stated. In addition, DOLE will also give affected workers employment facilitation services to match their skills with available domestic or overseas jobs.

The assistance, which will be given to the beneficiary through their payroll accounts, will be given within two weeks upon the receipt of their application by DOLE regional offices. Employers must also submit a report on their efforts to scale down their operations due to COVID-19 such as adopting flexible working arrangements like work from home or reduced working hours, among others.

ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro, however, urged the Duterte administration to layout and publicize their plans for economic relief for Filipinos while under the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, and urged government to provide at least P10,000 immediate economic relief to workers affected by the lockdown.

People are in dire need of information as to how exactly government would help them during the enhanced community quarantine, in which most work in the public and private sector was suspended, Castro said.

“An immediate P10,000 economic relief for workers affected by the lockdown will allow workers to stay at home,” Castro said.

“President Duterte himself said in his speech last night that there are enough funds. There are billions of funds already available in the 2020 General Appropriation Act, like the P13 billion Contingency Fund, the P16-billion Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, the already available savings, and the use of the PhilHealth reserve funds,” Castro added.  

Topics: ovel coronavirus pandemic , COVID-19 , World Bank , Department of Health , quarantine , Mark Joven , PhilHealth
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