Legarda: Stage a green and resilient COVID-19 recovery through the New Normal Bill

May 18, 2020

MANILA, 18 May 2020 — House Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda urged the government to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable by staging a green and resilient COVID-19 recovery, during a hearing via videoconferencing earlier today on House Bill 6623 (HB 6623) or the New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020.

Legarda, Chair of the New Normal Cluster of the Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC), intended to shepherd the bill’s passage to contain the most critical and universal mandates on health, safety, and sustainable development, provide guidelines to be set by concerned government agencies within their respective sectors, and incentivize good practices in all levels.

“We must ensure that our actions from now on do not restore the vulnerabilities we had before the pandemic, more so spawn new risks of future outbreaks and crises. We must stage a green and resilient COVID-19 recovery that values the intrinsic link between human health, the climate, and the environment,” said Legarda, in her opening statement.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Representative LRay Villafuerte, who sponsored the bill as one of the principal authors, said that the country must strike a balance between public safety and economic activity. He shared that HB 6623 seeks to establish safety measures and protocols as the country adjusts to the new normal in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the implementation of universally applicable health measures such as wearing of face masks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing and disinfection.

“The new normal is not a restriction on people. The objective is to build a better world, ” said Rep. Villafuerte who also stated that the Philippines could work towards being a model among developing countries in the implementation of best practices against COVID-19.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez presented the agency’s plans for the new normal, noting that the DTI and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) have come up with interim guidelines on workplace intervention and control of COVID-19. Sec. Lopez said that work-from-home arrangements will be encouraged especially for sectors that are most vulnerable to infection. This shall be done without diminution of wages or benefits.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), represented by Undersecretary Jose Arturo De Castro, presented the National ICT Agenda in the New Normal, which aims to digitize national and local government systems and operations.

In coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the DICT will conduct trainings for teachers and students on the use of digital systems to ensure continuity in education.

Usec. De Castro also underscored that the DICT intends to invest in capacity building and awareness-raising activities against cyber risks, adding that the workforce will need to be re-skilled and upskilled in order to grow and promote digital jobs in the gig economy. The agency also seeks to expand public reach through digital social assistance and digital medicine by reconfiguring internet cafes into digital classrooms and workplaces.

“We are repurposing thousands of internet cafes to become digital classrooms and workplaces. Students and workers will be able to afford this since they won’t be spending for food and transportation,” said Usec. De Castro.

The Department of Education (DepEd), represented by Usec. Nepomuceno Malaluan, also welcomed the legislation of HB 6623 and presented the agency’s Learning Continuity Plan (LCP).

“DepEd has streamlined the K to 12 curriculum to the most essential learning competencies (MELCs) to address congestion and overlaps,” said Usec. Malaluan.

Other agencies such as the Department of Health (DOH), Philhealth, Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Transportation (DOTr), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and Civil Service Commission (CSC) also expressed their support to the proposed bill.

Highlighting the importance of science, Legarda shared that HB 6623 must be anchored on the post-2015 global development frameworks: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“As we aim to prepare the Filipino public for life after lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, let us ensure that our bill does not only help the people adapt to the new norms of physical distancing, but also re-learn to live in harmony with nature,” said Legarda.

“Everything we do during and after this COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately define our country’s readiness and responsiveness to the challenges of the new normal. The only way forward is to heed science and make decisive actions for a recovery that will pave the way for a better normal for the Filipino people,” Legarda concluded. ##