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The Rundown: COVID-19 tally tops 60,000, Anti-Terror Law takes effect, lockdown restrictions eased

While the country grapples with a continuing rise in COVID-19 cases, which were recorded to have reached 67,456 today, July 19, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) relaxed some restrictions on travel and outdoor activities.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque brushed off concerns, however, claiming that the government’s response to the pandemic is “working” effectively because only a small number of people have died from the disease. 

Current, future plans

Roque announced last Wednesday, July 15, that the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) over Metro Manila will be extended until the end of July. Cebu City, meanwhile, remains the only area in the country under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ.

The National Capital Region was supposed to return to MECQ, but city mayors were against reinstating stricter quarantine protocols, promising instead to reinforce local response efforts. “Paiigtingin nila ang kanilang mga localized lockdown, palalakasin nila ang kanilang testing, tracing, at treatment,” Roque conveyed.

(They will intensify the implementation of their localized lockdowns and strengthen their testing, tracing, and treatment efforts.)

Nevertheless, Roque noted that the reversion of Metro Manila to MECQ is still a possibility if the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 

New guidelines were released through Resolution No. 56 of the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force. Travel restrictions were further relaxed, allowing entry of foreign nationals—provided they have valid, long-term visas, pre-booked accredited quarantine facility, and COVID-19 testing provider. 

Meanwhile, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones confirmed that classes for primary school until senior high school will commence on August 24 through distance learning modes, despite calls for an academic freeze by groups. Briones emphasized that most Southeast Asian countries have already shifted to blended learning, citing adjustments made by schools to continue delivering educational services, “Ang bottom line, patuloy ang pag-aaral ng mga bata.”

(The bottom line is that the youth’s schooling will proceed.)

Reallocating usage

DepEd’s decision mandates students and learners to follow the August 24 scheduled opening of classes. Far-flung areas lacking digital infrastructure and stable network coverage may face several difficulties in conducting online learning.

Following the denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, members of the House of Representatives mulled over the possibility of using its vacant television and radio frequencies to support distance learning to connectivity-poor places through House Resolution No. 1044. 

Camarines Sur Second District Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, the proponent of the resolution and one of the lawmakers who voted against the franchise renewal, mentioned an “inequality and inaccessibility of opportunities”, further noting that, “internet connectivity and possession of a laptop pose a variety of challenges for teachers and learners.”

However, Villafuerte also avowed support for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal only if the media giant is already under a new management instead of the Lopez family. “If they really love the 11,000 employees, and they really want to serve the Filipino people, they will just sell the company,” he expressed.

COVID-19 tally now within initial UP prediction

With over 1,000 new cases daily for five days in the past week, the total number of COVID-19-postive individuals in the country has gone beyond 60,000. This puts the count within the range predicted by University of the Philippines (UP) researchers, who earlier projected a tally of 60,000 to 90,000 by the end of July; a new study by UP and the University of Santo Tomas now expects 85,000 cases by the month’s end.

Despite the rising trend in the register, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III claimed that the country already “flattened the curve” last April—a statement which he later retracted. But medical experts say that the purpose of flattening the curve is for the number of active cases to remain within the nation’s healthcare capacity. Yet the Department of Health (DOH) admitted early this week that countrywide critical care capacity was already in the “danger zone” at over 70 percent occupancy.

Nonetheless, last July 13, the department registered the highest single-day increase in recoveries at 4,325.

DOH Officer in Charge-Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, attributed the staggering figures to improvements in data collection. “Because of our efforts to speed up the collection of data from laboratories, hospitals, and local government units, we are seeing a rise in reported cases, deaths, and recoveries now and in the coming days,” she noted.

Anti-Terror Law takes effect

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA) finally took effect last July 18, after it was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last July 3. Article 2 of the Civil Code normally mandates that any legislation should take effect 15 days after being published in the Official Gazette. 

But some lawyers have contested the effectivity date of the measure. Former DLSU College of Law Dean Atty. Chel Diokno pointed out in an interview in DZMM TeleRadyo that the July 3 publication was only online, not in print. He thus argued, “‘Yung dapat na bilang ay mismong pag-publish…Hindi sa online, kundi sa de manong papel ng Official Gazette. ‘Yun po ay July 6. Kaya bilang namin, ang effective date, hindi po ngayon [July 18], kundi July 22 pa.

(The counting should be based on the actual publication in the Official Gazette. Not online, but in print. That was on July 6. So, in our count, the effectivity date isn’t today [July 18] but on July 22.)

The new law is currently being challenged by nine petitions filed before the Supreme Court, which had already requested administration officials to comment. Moreover, its implementing rules and regulations are still to be released.

On the go

A few days before the ATA took effect, subpoenas were sent to several individuals, who had reportedly been airing criticisms against Sen. Bong Go on social media. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) also disclosed an increase in cyber-libel cases filed by government officials during the past few months. 

A statement released by Go last Thursday, July 16, indicated that his party asked for NBI’s help to look into social media posts that are possibly violating laws, particularly concerning libel. Filipinos then took to online platforms to chastise Go for being “thin-skinned”.

Brushing off criticism, Go asked the public to exercise their right to freedom of expression responsibly, further explaining, “Para sa mga kritiko, kung totoo ang sinasabi ninyo, ipagpatuloy niyo lang iyan. Nirerespeto namin ang karapatan at opinyon ninyo.”

(To the critics, if you are really telling the truth, just continue what you are doing. We respect your rights and opinion.)

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