Metro offices, churches adjust to MECQ

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    MANILA Mayor Isko Moreno on Monday directed all offices under the city government to implement alternative work arrangements after Metro Manila reverted to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) beginning today, Tuesday.

    Under Executive Order No.34 issued on August 3, Moreno said the alternative work arrangement from august 4 to August 18 is meant to “ensure the unhampered protection and functioning of the city in delivering basic services and needs to its constituents.”

    Under the set-up, skeletal workforce will remain at the Office of the City Mayor, Office of the Secretary to the Mayor, Office of the City Administrator, Public Information Office, City Personnel Office Budget Office, Office of the City Accountant, City Treasurer, Department of Public Services, Operations Division and District Offices and the Manila Barangay Bureau.

    The same arrangement will also be implemented in the General Services, City Assessment Office, Bureau of Permits, Manila Hawkers Office, Department of Engineering and Public Works, Public Recreation Bureau and the operations office of the Parks Development Bureau.

    Moreno said all city hospitals except the Ospital ng Maynila, Manila Health Department, Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Manila Department of Social Welfare, Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau, Veterinary Inspection Board and the Market Inspection Office would be “in full operation except their office-based employees.”

    “Those who are senior citizens, pregnant women, PWDs and below 21 year old officials and employees of the city hall shall be on a work from home alternative arrangements,” he added.

    SENATE LOCKDOWN

    Senators on Monday unanimously approved a motion by Senate President Vicente III to place the Senate under a 14-day ”enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ) starting today in support of the plea of healthcare workers for a “timeout” from relaxed quarantine protocols.

    Sotto, however, said the Senate will work under skeletal manpower so its day to day functions will not be hampered.

    He said he made the proposal to his colleagues on Sunday night, hours before President Duterte reverted Mega Manila to MECQ.

    All 23 senators present — 17 through hybrid means and six physically present in the plenary — did not object to Sotto’s proposal as their way of curbing the further spread of COVID-19.

    Sotto said all committee hearings can push through, including the scheduled Committee of the Whole hearing on Tuesday) on proposed resolutions calling for an investigation into alleged irregularities at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

    “Hearings will not be covered by our ECQ. PhilHealth tomorrow (Tuesday, Aug. 04) and bicam also,” Sotto said.

    Sotto was referring to Senate Resolution 461 which calls for an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the alleged failure of PhilHealth to release insurance claims to accredited hospitals, Senate Resolution 474 which will tackle the alleged widespread corruption in PhilHealth as alleged by resigned PhilHealth official Thorrson Keith, Senate Resolution 475 which will investigate the alleged rampant incompetence in the PhilHealth amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Senators can likewise convene the bicameral conference committee to settle differing provisions of the Bayanihan 2 with their counterparts at the House of Representatives.

    Expected to attend during the PhilHealth hearing are Ricardo Morales, PhilHealth president and chief executive office, and 15 other resigned and present agency officials, and Dr. Rustico Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines.

    Sotto said all resource persons are required to be physically present at the Senate for the hearing and only senators will be allowed to attend by videoconferencing.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said whistle-blowers who will attend the hearing include incumbent and recently resigned officials of PhilHealth, among them Alejandro Cabading, PhilHealth board member; Estrobal Laborte, former executive assistant of Morales; and Keith.

    Cabading was the PhilHealth official who figured in a shouting match with other government officials in a virtual meeting over the alleged overpriced ICT equipment purchased by PhilHealth. On the other hand, Laborte resigned to supposedly continue his doctoral degree. Keith tendered his resignation due to alleged corruption inside the agency.

    Lacson said the three witnesses approached him and offered to testify against PhilHealth managers. “They felt so helpless that PhilHealth is still very much controlled by the Mafia,” he said.

    Lacson said three issues will be tackled – the irregularity in the distribution of Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, alleged manipulation of the agency’s financial statement, and ICT overpricing.

    METRO MASSES

    Taking a cue from the Archdiocese of Manila, the Dioceses of Cubao, Pasig, and Parañaque have also decided to suspend the holding of religious gatherings, including masses, until next week.

    In separate Pastoral Letters, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara, and Parañaque Bishop Jesse Mercado announced the suspension of public religious gatherings beginning this week in response to the call of medical frontliners for a “timeout” in the fight versus the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “The Diocese of Cubao is listening and will act on their call. From August 3 to 14, the Diocese is suspending public liturgical services in all its parishes,” said Ongtioco.

    “I am suspending all public celebration of masses and other public religious activities in the entire Diocese of Pasig from August 4 until August 14. This is our proactive response to be in solidarity with the government, our dear doctors, and medical frontliners,” said Vergara.

    “We are not unaware of their struggles, since in the cities we serve, cases continue to rise, and our frontliners are suffering greatly as well. Therefore, in all the parishes of the Diocese of Parañaque, we shall suspend all public liturgical celebrations from August 3 to 14,” said Mercado.

    The three bishops, however, assured that all their online services and religious activities will continue to be made available to the faithful.

    Ongtioco, Vergara, and Mercado said the suspension of religious gatherings is necessary as the country’s healthcare workers are already crying for help while the health system of the country is approaching its breaking point.

    On Saturday night, Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo announced the suspension of religious gatherings in the Archdiocese of Manila for a period of 12 days.

    The Cubao Diocese comprises the southern part of Quezon City; the Parañaque Diocese covers Parañaque City, Las Piñas City, and Muntinlupa City; while the Pasig Diocese has under it Pasig City, Pateros, and Taguig City. – With Raymond Africa and Gerard Naval