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VILLAFUERTE TO HOUSE: HELP BOOST VAX CONFIDENCE

Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte believes that members of the House of Representatives have all the more reason to initiate or take part in the public information drives in their respective localities on the Covid-19 vaccination program, following the latest tracking polls showing that a majority of Filipinos are not willing to get their shots against the coronavirus.   

“Legislators should make use of the almost two-month Lenten break of the Congress to initiate or take part in the information campaigns in their respective congressional districts about the government’s drive to immunize our people against Covid-19,” Villafuerte said, “especially now when the latest tracking polls reveal that three out of every five Filipino adults hesitate or are not willing to get their jabs against the highly infectious coronavirus.”

He said “lawmakers should be at the forefront of the government’s efforts to convince adult Filipinos that the vaccines against Covid-19 are safe, that mass inoculation is necessary for us to contain the prolonged pandemic, and that achieving herd immunity via immunization is the only way for us to boost business confidence and consumer spending, which, in turn could  set off a quick and strong recovery from the coronavirus-driven global recession.”

Villafuerte said “legislators should take steps to help keep on track the government’s target to immunize 100% of the country’s adult population of about 70 million, more so now in the face of a two-week surge that has jacked up the caseload to almost 10,000 daily infections.”

The government has placed the National Capital Region (NCR) along with the four other neighboring provinces that form part of the so-called “NCR Plus bubble” under the stricter enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for a week till Easter Sunday, as the OCTA Research Group projected the number of coronavirus infections to soar to 12,000 to 13,000 daily this April.

The Department of Health (DOH) reported that new Covid-19 cases went up to an all-time high of 9,838 before the weekend, surpassing the 2020 record of 6,958 logged last August 10.

“Legislators should take steps to help keep on track the government’s target to immunize 100% of the country’s adult population of about 70 million, more so now in the face of a two-week surge that has jacked up the caseload to almost 10,000 daily infections.”

While lauding Malacañang for taking decisive steps to (1) secure enough funding from both our overseas development assistance (ODA) partners and local sources for the purchase of enough Covid-19 vaccines, and (2) negotiate successfully for the purchase and delivery of over 140 million doses between March and December 2021, Villafuerte said such commendable Palace efforts would go for naught should many Filipinos remain hesitant or refuse to get vaccinated.

He said the government, Congress and the private sector should work together in reversing the apparent vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos, especially at this time when the rise of new, more transmissible Covid-19 variants and  the seemingly lax observance by some sectors or groups of social distancing and other safety protocols are believed responsible for what has been described as the ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections.  

The Feb. 22-March 3 poll of Pulse Asia with face-to-face interviews showed that although nearly all adult Filipinos are aware of the vaccines developed against the coronavirus, 61% do not want to be vaccinated against the deadly Covid-19.

This sentiment among 6 out of every 10 respondents was reportedly shared by majorities across both socio-economic sectors and geographic areas, and most of those unwilling to get inoculated point to uncertainty about the vaccines as their reason for their refusal or hesitance to do so. 

The Congress adjourned last March 25 for its Lenten break and will resume session on May 17.

President Duterte’s economic managers have secured P58.4 billion for the acquisition of vaccine doses enough to immunize 70 million Filipinos or 100% of the country’s adult population.

In a recent televised briefing for President Duterte, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. reported to the Chief Executive that 2.3 million doses will have arrived in the country by end-March and that another 140.5 million doses are due for arrival on a staggered basis between April and December 2021.

Villafuerte earlier said he was flummoxed by the House leadership’s nonstop fixation with Charter change (Cha-Cha) at this precarious time when what OCTA Group experts tag as a “serious surge” in the Covid-19 caseload has already prompted Government to bring back travel bans, curfews, checkpoints and other mobility restrictions to prevent the caseload from further rising in the days ahead.

Congress and the private sector should work together in reversing the apparent vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos, especially at this time when the rise of new, more transmissible Covid-19 variants and  the seemingly lax observance by some sectors or groups of social distancing and other safety protocols.

The former Camarines Sur governor  appealed to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to “quit this seeming obsession with Cha-Cha and be at the wheel instead of efforts for legislators to do their part in helping the Duterte administration implement its inoculation program by, for instance,   being in the thick of information drives in their respective districts  to persuade targeted vaccinees to get their jabs once the vaccines become available.”

“The OCTA Research group fret that the daily infection rate could go up to an alarming 12,000 to  13,000 in Metro Manila, the anti-Covid task force has implemented stricter mobility restrictions, and hospitals are getting full with coronavirus patients,” Villafuerte said, “and I am flummoxed by the fact that all that the House leadership seems to be thinking of at this time is to keep the Speaker’s Cha-Cha initiative on overdrive.”

Villafuerte said the House leadership appears to be in denial that the coronavirus situation has taken a turn for worse—and should be the chamber’s No. 1 priority concern right now—even if the latest Covid-19 surge has reached a point where the Speaker himself placed the Batasan complex on a four-day lockdown  before the Lenten break in response to the rocketing number of cases in the metropolis and neighboring provinces.  

“ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), travel bans, curfews and checkpoints are back; the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) has shuttered driving schools, gaming arcades and museums, and reduced the capacities of restaurants, cafes and DOT (Department of Tourism)-accredited establishments; and the DOH is considering  sending patients to Southern and Central Luzon hospitals amid the swelling Covid bed occupancy rate of hospital ICUs (intensive care units) in Metro Manila,” Villafuerte said. “And all that the House leadership seems to have been concerned about before the Lenten break is for the House and Senate to pass the Speaker’s proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution before the year is over.”

He said the Cha-Cha initiative looks like a futile political exercise, in the first place, because Senate President Vicente Sotto III and other Senate leaders already said recently that constitutional reform is not their priority amid the pandemic. 

Rather than wrongly focus after the congressional break on fast-tracking the congressional approval of the Velasco-sponsored Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2, which proposes amendments to economic provisions in the Constitution, he said the Speaker and his adjutants should prod House members to support or initiate measures in their districts to help Malacañang meet its original target of immunizing 70 million Filipinos.

Villafuerte pointed out that he has long advocated for constitutional reform, particularly the lifting of the Charter’s economic provisions that restrict foreign participation in certain businesses, but he believes now is the wrong time to pursue it as this highly divisive issue would only sidetrack national focus and attention from the country’s exigent concerns of pandemic response and economic recovery.

“The primacy of a nationwide public information drive and an LGU (local government unit) training project at this time when the government has started its mass immunization program in the face of a new infection surge, is the best reason for the House leadership to set aside Cha-Cha for good and instead prod House members to work on helping LGUs implement the inoculation project in their respective districts,” Villafuerte said.

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