House approves ‘Better Normal’ bill

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    THE House of Representatives on Monday night approved on third and final reading a measure that will make mandatory for the next three years the observance of current strict safety and physical distancing protocols to avoid the further spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    A total of 242 lawmakers unanimously voted in favor of House Bill No. 6864, or the proposed “Better Normal for the Workplace, Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020,” which seeks to prepare and educate Filipinos for life through new norms of social or physical distancing and safety measures in government and private offices, schools, commercial establishments and other public spaces.

    The authors of the bill are Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, deputy speakers Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Paolo Duterte of Davao City and Loren Legarda of Antique; majority leader Martin Romualdez, and congressmen Eric Yap (ACT-CIS party-list), Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan), and Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado (Bulacan).

    Villafuerte appealed to senators to “help Filipinos best adapt to the new world order by passing their own version of the ‘better normal’ (bill) at this time when the WHO (World Health Organization) itself is bracing for a protracted pandemic and has called on countries to safeguard against what it called ‘a new and dangerous phase’ of the COVID-19 contagion.”

    Villafuerte said the “Better Normal” bill would “go a long way in helping Filipinos live their lives safely over the next year at the least or until such time when a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 is developed and becomes available for commercial production and sale.”

    The bill seeks to penalize violators by imprisonment of up to two months or a fine of not less than one thousand pesos but not more than fifty thousand pesos, or both.

    For example, anyone caught not wearing a mask while in a public place or in the workplaces will be issued a warning on the first offense and perform community service in succeeding offenses.

    The protocols under this “new normal” environment will be in place for three years or earlier, depending on the official declaration by President Duterte upon recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

    Aside from the mandatory wearing of masks and physical distancing of at least a meter, among the measures to be imposed in public places are the availability of handwashing or sanitizing stations and temperature checks.

    In public transportation, physical distancing also applies when queuing for tickets and in the interiors of vehicles. Contactless payment mechanisms will be implemented, and passengers will be required to wash their hands or sanitize before boarding public utility vehicles (PUVs).

    The operation of motorcycle taxis will remain suspended to prevent the spread of the virus through the use of common helmets and close contact between drivers and their passengers.

    For schools and other learning institutions, on-site classes, sports and other extracurricular activities shall remain suspended subject to consultation with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

    Online learning platforms will, in the meantime, be the primary mode of learning for students in all public and private schools.

    Once on-site classes gradually resume, the number of classes should be reduced and staggered class days should be implemented to enable students and teachers to comply with physical distancing protocols and other safety measures.

    Restaurants and other food service places may resume operations but initially only for take-out and delivery.