Speech at the turnover of vaccines at St. Luke’s BGC

Hello, good morning to everyone. Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here. I am truly excited to witness this momentous occasion.

A little background, almost a year ago, we started this journey with COVID. It’s a journey that I wanted to share with you from the perspective of a legislator – as a senator, I’ve always believed that we should never get in the way of science. And I’ve always felt very strongly that it is our job as legislators to work with the experts.

And so it’s really been an honor, and I thank Secretary Charlie [Galvez], Secretary Vince [Dizon], and of course, my brother Lino [Taguig Mayor Lino Cayetano], and national government, local governments officials – through your eyes, we have been able to come up with a legislation.

I strongly believe that we would not be able to come up with legislation without the scientists. We were in contact in the early days, around April, trying to understand what is going on. And every step of the way, I try to be in contact with DOH, with PGH, and although not directly with St Luke’s, but through my brother, I would get the information that comes from pure experiences.

I hate to put it this way, as I have experienced online bashing for saying that I “thank” COVID for the lessons we’ve learned – because there have been lessons. And we would be stupid, it would be a kind of stupidity, not to learn from this. So I end this because the most important thing is for [our medical frontliners] to get vaccinated.

My message is that this doesn’t end with vaccination. It’s just the start of the journey.

[Minutes ago,] I was still in the car [attending] an online hearing on the resumption of school. Many of the young mothers here have kids in school. These kids have been out of school for almost a year. And their mental health, their social skills, their need for peer companionship – these are aspects of child development that we cannot overlook.

And so the more vaccinations we have, the more we can open up. But it’s been a year. So I think, Sec. Charlie, you’ve done your job, you’re rolling it out, let’s now focus on education. Because we really have to have a whole-of-society approach. Thank you for all your hard work. Thank you.

Pia wants informal sector included in vaccination priority list

Senator Pia Cayetano has urged the National Task Force Against COVID-19  to include informal sector workers in the priority list of vaccine recipients under the government’s vaccination program.
“Ang ating informal sector, ‘yung sari-sari store [sellers] and street vendors, nakikisalamuha sila sa iba’t ibang mga tao araw-araw,” Cayetano said at the continuation of the Senate inquiry on the national vaccination plan on Friday.
“I just wanted to be sure because I didn’t see them in the priority list. Even the informal sectors in the tourism [industry]–yung nagbebenta ng [souvenirs] pati na rin yung mga masahista. I think they are very vital to the stability and improvement of our economy,” she added.
Responding to Cayetano, national task force deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon said that workers in the informal sector, particularly the vendors, are considered part of the indigent Filipino sector which, he said, will be accorded “higher priority, even above the essential workers.”
“Informal workers would definitely be covered in the priority sectors,” he assured.
Based on the initial list presented by Dizon, priority recipients include frontline healthcare workers, senior citizens, indigents, uniformed personnel, teachers, and social workers.
He noted that various technical working groups in the vaccine cluster are still working with the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Labor and Employment to have a definitive list of priority essential workers.
Essential workers include the workforce in the sectors of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, transportation, construction, food, tourism, essential retail, water refilling stations, laundry services, logistics and courier services, sanitation services, communication, energy, power, and fuel.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. clarified in the same hearing that the target date for the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is still on February 20. #

Pia files ‘vaccine passport’ bill

To help ensure the effective and efficient rollout of the country’s vaccination program, Senator Pia S. Cayetano is proposing to establish a Vaccine Passport Program that will help the government keep track of every Filipino’s record of inoculations against COVID-19.

The senator on Wednesday (January 20) filed Senate Bill No. 1999 or the “Vaccine Passport Program Act,” which seeks to provide a vaccine passport to all Filipinos.

Cayetano said her proposed vaccine passport would put on record who has been inoculated with which kind of vaccine, when and how many doses were administered, and other matters related to the government’s intensive vaccination plan against COVID-19.

Moreover, she said the vaccine passports – which shall primarily be digital but shall also be available through printed copies to ensure accessibility for all – would allow the government to monitor the distribution of vaccines, their effects on people, the overall effectiveness of the immunization program, and to gather data for post-market surveillance.

The vaccine passport shall contain the following standard information: a) Manufacturer, brand name, and batch number or other identifier of the COVID-19 vaccine; b) Date of vaccination; c) Name of the hospital, health center, or health facility where the vaccine was received; and d) Name, signature and license number of the duly licensed physician, nurse or other health worker administering the vaccine.

The measure further recommended that individuals vaccinated against COVID-19, as indicated in their Vaccine Passports, may be granted certain benefits or exemptions, subject to guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

These benefits could include international travel, as may be allowed in foreign jurisdictions; non-essential domestic travel; local checkpoint and quarantine exemptions; and access to business establishments allowed to operate during the New Normal.

“We should recognize the importance of preventive healthcare and the need to take proactive measures in the fight against diseases, particularly COVID-19,” the senator stressed.

“A comprehensive, mandatory, and sustainable immunization program for vaccine-preventable diseases – including the novel coronavirus – is indispensable to achieve the objectives of universal healthcare and the country’s commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly on SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being,” added Cayetano, who chairs the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking that keeps track of the country’s progress in achieving the 17 SDGs. #

Gov’t must clarify vaccine funding commitment to guide LGUs

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Friday reiterated her call to the national government to clarify how much funds it expects local government units (LGUs) to shoulder for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure coverage for their constituents.

The senator made this call anew on Friday at the continuation of the Senate’s Committee of the Whole inquiry on the government’s vaccination plan.

“It’s still not clear to me how much you expect the LGUs to spend. I think that should be made very clear. LGUs will always want to provide for their constituents, but even for those that can afford [COVID vaccines], hindi clear kung hanggang saan ang national support at hanggang saan ang kanila,” Cayetano told officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) led by Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr.

“Hindi nila malalaman kung uubusin ba nila ang pondo nila sa AstraZeneca na lumalapit sa kanila? O kung meron naman talagang assurance that the national government will take care of X percent of their population,” she added.

Clarifying the national government’s funding and procurement plans for the vaccines, she said, would enable LGUs to more efficiently allocate their “limited and valuable” resources for other COVID response and recovery measures.

“There are many ways that [LGUs] can revive their economy and support their constituents. They could be providing subsidies for jeepney and tricycle drivers. They do not necessarily have to put all their funding into the vaccines, if the national government could commit to paying for such,” Cayetano pointed out.

“I am sure they (LGUs) would all want to help and they will help. Kung hindi talaga kakayanin [ng national government] to pay for all the vaccines, then they will have to take that out of their other funding requirements, most of which are already being directed to [addressing the pandemic],” she further noted.

On another note, the senator called on the Department of Health (DOH) and the IATF to employ the help of the country’s “vaccine experts” and third party professionals in properly communicating the government’s vaccination program and procedures to the public.

“It’s important that these third party professionals and experts also explain what this process is, and what are the dangers if we don’t respect this process, if we try to expedite it, if we try to shortcut it,” she explained.

“You need these experts to take the floor and explain. Let them be your mouthpiece so that people will get used to hearing them, block out the noise, and be more reassured,” Cayetano concluded.#

Private sector may procure COVID-19 vaccines under Bayanihan 2

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today said that the private sector may procure and bring in COVID-19 vaccines into the country from registered pharmaceutical companies, as long as they comply with standards set by government authorities and existing laws.

Cayetano issued the clarification as a co-sponsor in the Senate of Republic Act 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act,

“The government has no exclusive authority to procure and import COVID-19 vaccines. This is not debatable. The provision under Bayanihan 2 clearly states this,” the senator stressed.

She was referring to Section 12 of the Bayanihan 2 law, which states: “Nothing in this Act shall prohibit private entities from conducting research, developing, manufacturing, importing, distributing or selling COVID-19 vaccine sourced from registered pharmaceutical companies, subject to the provisions of this Act and existing laws, rules and regulations.”

Cayetano acknowledged that the private sector has been the government’s reliable partner in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Section 12, she noted, waives the requirement of Phase IV trials to expedite the procurement of said medication and vaccine, provided that the latter were recommended and approved by the World Health Organization and/or other international health agencies.

The same section likewise mandates that the minimum standards for the distribution of the said vaccines shall be set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC).

Finally, she said that Section 12 of Bayanihan 2 will remain in effect three months from December 19, 2020, or until March 19, 2021.#

On IATF’s face shield requirement for bikers

I join the biking community in expressing concern on the safety of using a face shield while biking.

As a cyclist on the road, I know how important it is to be fully aware of your surroundings. A shield could drastically impair one’s vision and perception of space, which may lead to accidents.

I ask the IATF to consider exempting cyclists from wearing face shields. Moreover, recognizing the role of exercise in promoting mental and physical health, I also ask the IATF to exempt joggers from the requirement when jogging in open spaces, provided they observe social distancing measures.

Pia calls for inquiry on COVID-19 vaccine plan

Senator Pia S. Cayetano on Monday (December 14) filed a resolution calling for a Senate inquiry on the status of the country’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies needed for inoculation, as well as the implementation of the country’s vaccination program against the novel coronavirus.

“There is a need to review and examine our existing policies and programs to expedite the purchase of [COVID-19] vaccines and the necessary medical supplies to inoculate the desired number of the population, while ensuring that other health protocols necessary to deal with COVID-19 continue to be improved and implemented,” Cayetano’s Senate Resolution No. 597 read.

The senator said “it is critical to monitor the status of the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies as well as the implementation of a national COVID-19 vaccination program”, to effectively protect Filipinos’ health and help the country build back better.

“Even in the United States, there is much concern about rolling out the vaccine efficiently as it is not only an issue of coordination between the government, healthcare professionals, and healthcare systems but also the involvement of local clinics and the general population because a single misstep may lead to the disruption of the entire system,” the resolution added.

The senator further pointed out that while there are still vaccines undergoing trials, other nations have already secured enough by the end of 2021 for “nearly three times their current population.”

“The United States closed a deal with Pfizer as early as July for 100 million vials, and has recently bought another 100 million from Moderna, while Canada, with the population of 38 million, has agreed to buy up to 76 million doses from Pfizer, and 414 million from other vaccine manufacturers,” she noted through her resolution.

Meanwhile, according to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, the Philippine government could secure advance procurement of the vaccines by the end of next year and get 30 to 50 million doses once they are rolled out.

This, Cayetano cited, would cover only 14 to 23 percent of our population, despite the World Health Organization’s pronouncement that 60 to 70 percent of a country’s population need to acquire immunity to break the chain of transmission.

Apart from COVID-19 vaccines, the senator said there are also other expenses that the government needs to prepare for to ensure the success of the country’s fight against the pandemic.

During the plenary deliberations on the Department of Health’s proposed 2021 budget, Cayetano as Senior Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee said the discussion and, consequently, the budgetary allocation should not be limited to the purchase of the vaccines. She pointed out that allocations for other components of the vaccination process – such as storage, training of vaccinators, transportation, waste disposal, health promotion, surveillance, medical supplies like syringes and needles, and other costs for the roll out of the vaccination program – must also be carefully taken into consideration.

Moreover, Cayetano stressed that another concern that should be taken into consideration is people’s willingness to be vaccinated. As such, she said an effective information campaign to properly educate the public on the importance of vaccines and the necessary funds for such are also essential.

“Consideration for all these other components of the vaccination process should go together with our efforts to purchase the vaccines, to guarantee a more holistic approach in the next phase of our COVID-19 battle,” Cayetano concluded. #

Statement on the appeal of the medical community

The medical communities have made an appeal to reimpose ECQ in NCR to give our health workers breathing space. Throughout the pandemic, they truly have been carrying a heavy burden. On the other hand, the IATF has the difficult task of finding the right balance between opening the economy for job creation and restricting movement to stop the spread. Thus, I am glad that the IATF has responded to the President’s directive and committed to review this situation to find a way to address the concerns of our doctors and health workers. In the meantime, we should all do our part to help our health workers. Stay home if your situation permits. If you need to be out, be strict about social distancing, mask-wearing, and handwashing.

Medical frontliners (source: DOH / PNA)

Pia: Now is the best time to pass the Safe Pathways Act

Sponsorship speech on the Safe Pathways Act (SBN 1582 under Committee Report 101) 

By Senator Pia S. Cayetano

Delivered on June 3, 2020 (World Bicycle Day)

Mr. President and my dear colleagues, I come before you today to sponsor Senate Bill No. 1582 under Committee Report No. 101, otherwise known as the “Safe Pathways Act”, taking into consideration Senate Bill No. 1518 filed by this representation, and Senate Resolution No. 411 filed by Senator Francis Tolentino.

 

I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues, Senator Grace Poe, who expressed her intent to be a co-author and co-sponsor of this bill, and Senator Francis Tolentino, Senator Manny Pacquiao, and Senator Sonny Angara, who are co-authors of this measure.

 

There is no better time to sponsor this measure than today, as we join other nations in celebrating World Bicycle Day (June 3).

Mr. President, as a health advocate, biker, and triathlete, I have been fighting for this cause for as long as I can remember.

For almost a decade, I have been advocating for bike lanes and sustainable transportation. I filed my first Sustainable Transportation Bill in this chamber, with the help and support of my fellow advocates in 2011. I refiled similar bills in succeeding Congresses.

The benefits of cycling and walking are known to many, if not all, and yet, many metropolitan centers like ours fail to change gears and disrupt the current transportation system, even if that system does not work.

Fast forward to today… Suddenly, we are living in the time of COVID-19, which has forced us into a new normal. All over the world, public transportation systems were shut down in an effort to flatten the curve. But people have adapted. In lieu of buses, trains, and cabs, many, including our very own health [care] workers and frontliners, have turned to more resilient and safer  ‘alternatives’ like biking and walking.

The World Health Organization, in its technical guidance on moving around during the pandemic, advocated cycling and walking as an alternative for people to “reach workplaces when possible, meet essential daily needs, or provide assistance to [the] vulnerable.”

 

In Europe, China, and the United States, and all over, urban cycling networks surged after lockdowns were imposed. In cities like New York, Mexico, and Berlin, they set up temporary bicycle lanes to facilitate people’s mobility.

And Mr. President, amid the continuous threats of COVID-19, we are gradually realizing the upside to our shift towards sustainable transportation.

 

The decrease in the number of motorized vehicles has allowed us to see the clear blue skies, a sight we have missed in the cities for years… Environmental groups and government agencies, including our own Department of Environment and Natural Resources, confirm that the air is cleaner.

In a time of high anxiety, biking and walking provide more comfort as it is easier to social distance this way. They also promise better physical and mental wellbeing because of the physical activity involved. Moreover, the cost of buying and maintaining a bike is very low compared to owning a private vehicle and even commuting.

Sustainable transportation is now part of the new normal, and we welcome this change in people’s mindset. But we cannot simply put cyclists and pedestrians on the road without ensuring their safety. We need to be able to support them with the right infrastructure, which we sadly lack in our car-centric streets.

 

I bring the attention of the body to the photo, which is a photo of medical frontliners from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. They are testing out the new bicycles donated through the Life Cycles PH community.

The fact that most of our healthcare workers and frontliners are using these modes of transportation stresses the urgency of our call. Every day, they face risks apart from COVID-19, as they continue to traverse unsafe roads while going to work. We need to protect them.

 

Mr. President, this is the objective of the measure we are proposing today.

The Safe Pathways Bill seeks to create a network of pop-up bicycle lanes that can be used by our essential workers during the pandemic. The lanes shall strictly be for bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles, and shall connect users to essential destinations like medical facilities, among others. The lanes shall also have enough space to accommodate one-meter physical distancing.

 

One of the recommendations made by Dr. Antonio Dans from the UP College of Medicine is to prioritize building loops of bikeway systems that link roads along hospitals, such as those within the City of Manila. This will guarantee that our frontliners will remain safe even before they reach the hospitals where they work.

This objective of our proposed measure is aligned with the call of our colleague, Senator Francis Tolentino, who filed Senate Resolution 411 urging the DPWH, DILG, and MMDA to designate, develop, and improve bicycle lanes in Metro Manila, which transitioned to General Community Quarantine beginning last Monday, June 1.

 

The bill shall also create a designated network of emergency pathways along local roads, to give pedestrians, cyclists, and non-motorized vehicle users safe and convenient access to frequented destinations. Motorized vehicle passage shall be restricted in these pathways during peak hours.

 

Meanwhile, public places, government offices, schools, places of work, and commercial establishments like malls, banks, and hospitals shall provide adequate parking spaces for bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles.

 

The public and private sectors shall develop the necessary infrastructure and facilities to promote the use of these modes of transportation, including parking spaces, showers, changing areas, and hydration facilities.

Furthermore, the bill mandates cyclists and other non-motorized vehicle users to obey existing traffic laws, rules, and regulations.

As Chair of the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking, I am also duty-bound to ensure that the government remains cognizant of its goals of creating a more sustainable future for all. This bill shall mandate our appropriate agencies to permanently adopt these networks of bike lanes and walkways even after the pandemic, as part of our long-term solution to address congestion and pollution.

 

The call of our advocates in the health, environment, and even sports sectors is stronger now than ever before. Various government agencies, both local and national, have expressed their commitment to immediately implement our proposals; some cities have made their own initiatives, like Taguig and Iloilo.

 

Iloilo City has a dedicated bike lane along its Diversion Road and on selected thoroughfares in the downtown area. Its bike lane stretches more than 11 kilometers. Taguig City also has a 6.9-kilometer protected bike lane on the stretch of Laguna Lake Highway in Bicutan.

Our bike lane is also separate from the pedestrian sidewalk, and then there is also a permanent lane that separates these bike lanes from the road used by motor vehicles for protection, as you can see in the photo.

Moreover, in time for the World Bicycle Day today, the Taguig City government has set up additional bike lanes along Cayetano Boulevard and Bayani Road. It is also set to launch a comprehensive bike program, which includes the creation of an office dedicated to biking, the establishment of new bike routes in the city, and a bike lending program for city employees.

Mr. President, the time is now. This crisis presents us with opportunities we must take now. We can seize the moment and institutionalize policy changes that will leave our children with cleaner air, a healthier future with bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, and emergency pathways.

Thank you! #

Make ‘bayanihan’ work to revolutionize PH education for our youth

“The Bayanihan Spirit is called upon now more than ever to make education effective for our young children.”

Senator Pia S. Cayetano delivered this message to the country’s educators on Monday (June 1), as she called for a whole-of-society approach to address challenges to the basic education sector during COVID-19 and beyond.

Speaking before DepEd’s virtual kickoff program of the 2020 Brigada Eskwela and Oplan Balik Eskwela, Cayetano reiterated the importance of blended learning to ensure that no child will get left behind in receiving quality education during the ‘new normal.’

“The urgent task at hand [is] the delivery of the education materials. So we are now rushing to set into place other modes of delivery because the usual physical classroom setting will not be happening anytime soon,” the senator noted.

“However, I’d like to include in the discussion that beyond the delivery of education is [the need to] reach every single child with the help of tools available to us, so we can optimize learning for each child,” she added.

Cayetano said this requires more than just shifting to a different teaching platform – from physical classes to online classes – but a comprehensive ‘blended’ approach, which will employ the participation of parents, teachers, and communities in delivering education to children.

The Chair of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking, Cayetano said educators can turn current challenges into opportunities to jumpstart education for the future.

“I support the initiatives and at the same time challenge DepEd to make the most of these challenging times and really revolutionize education for our young people today,” she said.

Senator Pia Cayetano: “Beyond the delivery of education is [the need to] reach every single child with the help of tools available to us, so we can optimize learning for each child.”

DepEd Secretary Leonor “Liling” Briones, for her part, echoed the senator’s beliefs, stressing that the agency shares Cayetano’s goal of approaching the sector’s needs using a futures thinking mindset.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the Department of Education shares Sen. Pia Cayetano’s goal of approaching the sector’s needs using a futures thinking mindset.

Meanwhile, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan also expressed his support for Cayetano’s message. He said there is now a much-needed opportunity to “really transform the [country’s] education system.”

“Hindi po tatalikuran ng ating pamahalaan at ng Kagawaran ng Edukasyon ang tungkulin na magbigay ng kalidad na edukasyon para sa lahat. Hindi lamang emergency response ito, kundi tulad ng sabi ni Senator Pia, kailangan nakatungtong din ito sa mas pangmatagalang vision at innovation for the future of the education system,” Usec. Malaluan stressed.

He said the agency is set to implement blended and distance learning systems in line with the agency’s goal of delivering quality education to children that is geared for the future.

DepEd Undersecretary Nepo Malaluan: “Tulad ng sabi ni Senator Pia, kailangan nakatungtong din [ang mga pagbabago sa edukasyon] sa mas pangmatagalang vision at innovation for the future of the education system.”

DepEd is preparing to deliver different learning modalities to children during the crisis, which include printed modules, online learning resources, and television and radio instructions.

Cayetano added: “I am so happy that [DepEd under] Secretary Briones and I see eye-to-eye on these ideas. But we need to be able to translate this into actual action on the ground with our teachers [and society helping as a whole].”

“I trust that in the weeks and months to come, [we can cascade] all this information and bring our educators up to speed so the knowledge that [our children] will receive outside of the classroom is maximized,” added Cayetano, the principal author of three laws on flexible learning, including the Open High School System Act (RA 10665), Open Distance Learning Act (RA 10650), and Ladderized Education Act (RA 10647). #