Uphold FDA’s regulatory authority over vapes, heated tobacco products

Senator Pia S. Cayetano has called on her colleagues in the Senate to uphold the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)‘s jurisdiction to regulate vapes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) in the market, saying that the agency’s mandate to protect public health is firmly established in two laws previously passed by Congress in 2020 and 2009.

In her interpellation on the controversial Vape Bill (SBN 2239) last week, Cayetano questioned the bill’s objective to transfer the government’s regulatory power over vapes and HTPs from the FDA to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Explaining the coverage of health products under the FDA’s jurisdiction, Cayetano noted that the FDA Law of 2009 included “health-related devices,” which refer to “any device not used in health care, but has been determined by the FDA to adversely affect the health of the people.” (Section 9-C of RA 9711).

“I think it is quite clear that in his previous statements, when his honor says that this product [e-cigarette] is ‘less harmful,’ then that is already an admission that it is a product that has health effects. Because why would you even mention the words ‘more harmful.. less harmful,’ if it’s not a health-related product?” Cayetano asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ralph Recto.

“Moreover, if lotions, creams, and perfumes applied on the skin and other cosmetic products that come in contact with external parts of the body are regulated by the FDA, then what more for e-cigarettes, which are inhaled  by its users, sending harmful chemicals to the lungs and internal organs?” the senator further asked.

She also noted that under the Sin Tax Law of 2020, the FDA is clearly mandated to regulate, consistent with evolving medical and scientific studies, “the manufacture, importation, sale, packaging, advertising, and distribution of vapor products and heated tobacco products,” including the “sale to nonsmokers or persons below twenty-one (21) years old.” (Sections 144-B and 144-C of RA 11467)

In addition, she said that the FDA Law declared as policy that the State shall “protect and promote the right to health of the Filipino people,” and “help establish and maintain an effective health product regulatory system based on the country’s health needs and problems.” (Sections 3-A and 3-B of RA 9711)

The senator pointed out that Sen. Recto’s statements that e-cigarettes are ‘less harmful’ than conventional cigarettes amounted to a health claim, and an admission that these products are indeed ‘health-related devices’  that clearly fall under FDA’s jurisdiction as mandated by RA 9711.

Cayetano’s interpellation on SB 2239 is scheduled to resume this week.#

Senator Pia Cayetano
Solid legal ground: Senator Pia Cayetano says that FDA is mandated to regulate e-cigarettes by virtue of RA 11467 and RA 9711.

Pia: POGO Tax Law to raise funds for healthcare, SDGs

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today described Republic Act No. 11590 – the newly signed law taxing Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs) – as a ‘major win’ for the country because it will generate billions in additional funds for public services, but without burdening Filipino taxpayers.

“For years, many of these POGOS have been operating without paying the proper taxes. By virtue of this law that I sponsored and defended, they will now be taxed,” said Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and principal sponsor of the POGO Tax Law.

“POGOS are offshore gaming operators. That means only foreigners abroad may gamble in POGOs. So the taxes do not come from Filipinos, or even foreigners residing in the country,” she explained.

“I’d rather tax the POGOs than see a proliferation of gambling in the country, which sadly seems to be the direction that our colleagues in the House are taking with the recent passage of a bill allowing online gambling,” she emphasized.

She further noted that under the new law, 60 percent of total revenues from the gaming tax imposed on offshore gaming companies will be earmarked by the government, and allocated for the following purposes:

•60% for the implementation of the Universal Health Care Act;
•20% for the Health Facilities Enhancement Fund; and
•20% for the attainment of the SDGs, provided that the specific SDG targets shall be determined by NEDA.

“We made sure that the revenues from POGOs will be earmarked for much-needed health programs amid the pandemic, and contribute to the attainment of our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” added the senator, who also chairs the Senate Committee on the SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

Based on estimates of the Department of Finance (DOF), Cayetano said RA 11590 is projected to generate P22.9 billion in 2022, through the 5 percent gaming tax imposed on the gross gaming revenues of POGO licensees.

In addition, the government is expected to collect P9.2 billion in 2022 from the 25 percent final withholding tax imposed on foreign POGO employees.

Combined, she said the total projected revenues from RA 11590 would amount to P32.1 billion in 2022. #

Senator Pia Cayetano
Senator Pia Cayetano at the Senate session hall

On the proposed budget of DOH & attached agencies

Mr. President, it is my honor to take on the herculean task of sponsoring the budget of the Department of Health and its attached agencies, including PhilHealth.

Our country’s people are its biggest resource. Thus their health should be a priority. COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in our country’s healthcare and response system. As we deliberate on our national budget, our vision should be geared towards closing these gaps.

Investments in healthcare should help us build back better, guided by the principles of sustainable development and futures thinking.

This requires that we focus and further strengthen Primary Health Care, pursuant to the principles of the Universal Health Care Law.

These initiatives also form part of the country’s commitments under SDGs, [particularly] SDG 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing).

Mr. President, I thought it wise, and in my interest to save time, I would like our colleagues to take note of some of the facts and data that I will share now because they may be relevant to the questions you may ask. So I will spread it on the record now.

On the COVID-19 Vaccines:

According to the World Health Organization, at least 60-70% of the population needs to have immunity to break the chain of transmission. This means around 65 million Filipinos (60% of our current population) need to be vaccinated.

At present, the Department has identified priority groups of around 24M vulnerable Filipinos, which make up around 20% of our population. This includes frontline health workers, senior citizens, indigent population, and uniformed personnel.

They also have a tier 2 of priority, but this is 20%. Why do I mention 20%? Because as I will explain a little bit more later in the course of interpellation, since we are part of the COVAX, we have the assurance of getting vaccines for 3-20 percent of our population.

So how much do we have to allocate to cover these priority groups? Based on the costing of DOH, we need to allocate at least Php 15 billion if we purchase Aztrazeneca vaccine, which is the cheapest at around Php 610 per person. Or on the other extreme, Php 436.3B for the Sinopharm vaccine, which is the highest priced at around Php 17,690 per person for two doses, while the others fall in between. For the record, may vaccine na ganoon kamahal. The other vaccines fall in between.

Experts recommend that we purchase from various suppliers. Why? Well, given that there may be possible side effects, we would rather spread out our risk throughout the population and minimize the chances that we are all exposed to one particular vaccine and any particular side effects they have. For the record, I am a vaccine advocate. And lahat naman meron, hindi naman ho tayo pwedeng matakot sa side effects, pwedeng masakit ang ulo, pwedeng ano pa man. Normal naman po yun, huwag lang ang masama at malalang side effect.

It cannot be overemphasized that these amounts only cover the cost of vaccines and do not include consumables and other logistics that go into delivering the vaccine to the individual that needs it.

Apart from the vaccines, there are other expenses:

Cold Chain or Supply Chain, which keeps vaccines in tightly controlled temperatures before administered to a person; Training & PPEs for vaccinators; Needles, syringes & other critical equipment.

These are things that have to be purchased in advance, considering that the entire world is also trying to get hold of them during this global crisis. Take for example syringes. I am told that we do have a manufacturer here in the Philippines in one of our industrial zones. But their entire production is already committed to Japan. So paano? Sayang, ano? We are making it here pero hindi tayo makakuha. I think magiging available daw after six months. So pwede, baka pwede din tayong pumila for that second batch of syringes.

But, there’s also another company that manufactures syringes, and they are waiting for us to communicate and negotiate with them so we can get hold of this most important component in the vaccination process. I don’t think that we have started this process yet, Mr. President.

Further, considering that the DOH may not be equipped to handle the Supply Chain requirements of COVID-19 vaccines, the government should be outsourcing, discussing, negotiating with private companies that are already equipped to handle such vaccines. Wala naman hong masama na magtulong-tulong tayo. Whole-of-society, whole-of-nation dapat ang approach natin.

Meanwhile, aside from the vaccine, there is progress being made in therapeutic medicines that can be used for COVID infected persons. We should also pay attention to this because COVID-19 will not disappear right away. So meanwhile, the development of these therapeutic medicines is also important, and we should continue the ongoing WHO Solidarity Trials for these therapeutic medicines.

As Vice Chair of the Finance Committee handling the budget of our health sector, we have also taken on the task of defending PhilHealth’s budget.

Philhealth  has been the subject of many investigations, including the one recently conducted by the Senate. We are cognizant of our fellow senators’ concerns on the need to address PhilHealth’s inefficiencies and alleged fraudulent actions.
Nevertheless, we are ready to defend its proposed budget for the next year, with the vision towards the full implementation of the UHC Law to benefit all Filipinos, but mostly those who have less in life.

One of their biggest budgetary needs is the funding of Konsulta – the outpatient package. This representation has been awaiting the roll-out of such a package for years. Health experts agree that a sustainable  health system must focus on preventive health care, not a hospital care type of package, which is what Philhealth is all about right now. Preventive health care is not only much cheaper, it is more efficient. Most ailments can be treated with lifestyle modification, possibly medicines and home rest, instead of expensive hospital stays.

But despite my full support for outpatient care, at its present stage, we do not believe that Philhealth is ready to roll out a P68.8-billion plan. Much ground work needs to be done before launching.  Instead we recommend pilot testing so that a year from now, Philhealth can present to us more details and we would be in a better position to grant the same

So for the actual budget breakdown:

-The budget of DOH (Office of the Secretary) and its attached agencies for fiscal year 2021, with a total budget of Php 212,732,450,000, broken down as follows:

-DOH OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY with total new appropriations of Php 136,086,935,000. This is Php 35 Billion higher than the 2020 GAA amount, but Php 25 Billion lower than the adjusted 2020 budget considering Bayanihan 1 and 2.


-NATIONAL NUTRITION COUNCIL (NNC) with total new appropriations of Php 488,021,000

-PHILIPPINE HEALTH INSURANCE CORPORATION (PHILHEALTH) with total new appropriations of Php 71,353,360,000

-LUNG CENTER OF THE PHILIPPINES with total new appropriations of Php 504,997,000

-NATIONAL KIDNEY AND TRANSPLANT INSTITUTE with total new appropriations of Php 1,272,442,000

-PHILIPPINE CHILDREN’S MEDICAL CENTER with total new appropriations of Php 1,094,375,000

-PHILIPPINE HEART CENTER with total new appropriations of Php 1,787,827,000; and


Dear colleagues, we hope to continue working with all of you in passing a budget that can support the health needs of our people and plug the gaps, which have also given rise to inefficiencies and could possibly lead to patterns of fraud within the healthcare system.

Maraming salamat. I am now ready to accept questions.#

Pia bats for ‘hospital loops’: Prioritize bike lanes to protect frontliners

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is supporting a proposal that would prioritize the establishment of pop-up bicycle lanes and emergency pathways in roads connecting to hospitals, which will serve as safety loops for healthcare workers and frontliners reporting for work during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking conducted a hearing on Thursday (May 28) to discuss proposals seeking to promote sustainable modes of transportation in the country, including biking, walking, and non-motorized transportation or NMTs.

“We need to protect the people who protect us. I want to help address this need to establish safe pathways for our frontline workers.”


Dr. Antonio Dans, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine, made an appeal to government agencies to prioritize building a “loop” of bikeway systems that would link roads along several hospitals in Metro Manila.

Dr. Dans: Healthcare workers are in a “special situation” since they need to practice more safety precautions and social distancing measures in the time of COVID-19.


“My appeal is when we build these loops [of safe pathways], we think of our healthcare workers,” Dr. Dans said, noting that healthcare workers are in a “special situation” since they need to practice more safety precautions and social distancing measures in the time of COVID-19.


“Since we are [already] thinking about how to build these [bike lanes and walkways], maybe we can start in areas near hospitals to improve frontliners’ access [to their places of work],” he added.


The proposal seeks to benefit frontliners working in four hospitals in Manila: the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) along Taft Ave., the Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center along Quirino Ave., and the Manila Doctors Hospital and Manila Medical Center, both along United Nations Ave.

The 6-kilometer hospital bicycle loop proposed by Dr. Tony Dans.


The six-kilometer loop shall serve as a “safe haven” to ensure frontliners’ safety while going to work on their bikes. Dr. Dans said nearly a quarter of PGH’s hospital staff have requested for bicycles as their access to work had been limited due to the cancellation of public transport.


“We hope that our policymakers, the local government units (LGUs), and even officials at the executive branch, would give us this option to get to work safely during the COVID-19 crisis and after,” he said.


Cayetano, for her part, expressed her full support for the proposal, stressing that priority should really be given to initiatives that would ensure the safety of all frontliners who are leading our fight against the virus.


“We need to protect the people that protect us. I want to help address this need to establish safe pathways for our frontline workers,” she stated, adding that similar hospital loops can be allotted in areas with a big concentration of hospitals like Quezon City.


It should be recalled that last month, Dr. Maria Teresa Dajao, a medical officer of the Manila city government, was killed after she was hit by a truck while biking home from frontline duty.

Screengrab from the Philippine Star website

Cayetano recently filed Senate Bill No. 1518 or the “Safe Pathways Act,” which shall create a network of pop-up bike lanes and emergency pathways to connect people to essential destinations during the pandemic, all while ensuring that physical distancing is maintained.


She earlier said that the bill’s primary objective is to provide safe spaces and priority lanes for frontliners going to work through biking or walking. Some of these pathways may even directly lead to hospitals, Cayetano had earlier explained.


“We want to be able to protect all of our frontliners; even the hospital staff exposed to admin work and cleaning services, the security personnel, the barangays workers, and so on. We need to keep finding ways to keep them all safe, which also means keeping our roads safe for them to travel on,” the senator said.


Apart from her legislative work, Cayetano had started the Pilipinas In Action initiative, which recently launched the “Buy A Bike” project where donors can pledge for bicycle sets to be donated to COVID-19 workers. The initiative was able to donate bikes to PGH staff, in coordination with Dr. Dans.

Screengrab from pilipinasinaction.ph


Meanwhile, the senator also commended the PGH for its plan to construct its own bike parking lot for employees.


“We really have to be able to promote these sustainable modes of transportation in the country with the right infrastructure. We should seize this moment brought about by the crisis to foster this change now,” said Cayetano, who is also the principal author of the National Bicycle Act (SBN 285), and the Sustainable Transportation Act (SBN 66). #


Statement on Inquirer reporter’s tweets

“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” – Winston Churchill

I call out Mr. Marlon Ramos of the Philippine Daily Inquirer for his irresponsible & unethical tweet, wherein he twisted a statement I made during this morning’s Senate Committee on Health hearing.

During my manifestation, I was explaining how urgent the health bills I filed were and was giving context by saying that historically, health infrastructure and health needs were not prioritized. But this time of COVID-19 opened people’s eyes and gave us the opportunity to use the crisis to improve our healthcare system.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand my statement. But someone with a malicious mind like Mr. Ramos chose to use my words and give it a different meaning. Perhaps the Inquirer reporter did not bother to listen to my manifestation – which wasn’t even that long – or read the transcript, wherein I was referring to the improvement of healthcare, as attached to this post.

Clearly he chose to maliciously twist the sense of my manifestation, when he tweeted that I “welcome” the negative impacts of the pandemic on our economy, as well as on Filipinos’ lives. Who in their right mind would wish this upon anyone?

Years ago, I lost a child due to a genetic condition that he had since birth. I chose to cope with his death by helping other children in need. I ran and biked to raise funds for these kids. Despite the pain, I gave thanks to God and welcomed that time in my life because it brought so much good. Does it mean I’m happy I lost my son? Of course not.

It saddens me and at the same time outrages me that a reporter would choose to twist words to confuse people and impute malice on a statement urging support for better health infrastructure all over the country. I trust that the intelligent Filipinos know better than to give value to his twisted words.

COVID-19 an ‘eye-opener’ on the urgency to raise health infra budget

Senator Pia S. Cayetano stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the need to address the gaps in the country’s healthcare system, as she pushed for measures seeking to ramp up health infrastructure for the safety and protection of Filipinos.

“COVID-19 opens our eyes and gives us that window of opportunity to provide the necessary funding, attention, and effort that our healthcare deserves,” the senator said during the Senate Committee on Health and Demography’s hearing on Tuesday (May 26).

“This pandemic has revealed many of the gaps in our system, gaps that have been created because of decades of lack of funding for healthcare,” added Cayetano, who formerly chaired the health panel in 2004.

The senator expressed hope that the health crisis today would bring forth reforms in the future and push the government to invest more in our healthcare system, particularly to build more adequate health infrastructure.

“Knowing how open-minded people are now and how much people see the importance of healthcare, there would be a much stronger support for whatever budget we would be proposing,” she stressed.

Last year, Cayetano filed Senate Bill No. 63, or the ‘Build, Build, Build for Health Infrastructure’ Bill, which mandates the Department of Health (DOH) to identify priority needs for health infrastructure, and establish a long-term plan to provide for health facilities in priority areas.

Under the measure, a proposed amount of P10 billion shall automatically be included in DOH’s annual appropriation for the next five years for the implementation of the infrastructure plan.

“My intention [in filing the bill was] very simple, that health infrastructure be included in the flagship projects of this administration in the remaining years that it has, and that this continues throughout the years,” Cayetano said during the hearing.

She stressed that ensuring adequate funds for health infrastructure is consistent with the newly enacted Universal Health Care (UHC) Law, Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of which the country is a signatory, as well as the government’s own Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.

Meanwhile, the senator pushed anew for the passage of another bill she filed, Senate Bill No. 1442, which seeks to provide for the establishment and operation of additional quarantine stations, grounds, and anchorages in all strategic areas in the country.

“This is a [Covid-response] measure that also will ensure that we are prepared for future health crises,” stressed Cayetano who now chairs the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

She also expressed support for a proposal to authorize the DOH to set bed capacities in various public hospitals. Current regulations only allow the agency to increase bed capacity and improve service capability of hospitals through legislation.

“I am a big supporter of this, because what I have seen in all the years that I chaired the [Senate] Committee [on Health] was, nauuna po ang mga ospital na may masigasig na congressman o senador na tumutulong. Kawawa naman po ang mga tao o lugar na walang nagla-lobby para sa kanila,” Cayetano cited.

“Their need for healthcare is in no way diminished by the lack of a piece of paper filed in the House or in the Senate. That’s why I have always believed that DOH should be given full authority,” she further noted.#

Cayetano’s ‘Build, Build, Build for Health’ bill proposes P10 billion for DOH’s health infrastructure budget over the next five years.

Pia files medical reserve corps bill

Senator Pia S. Cayetano has filed a measure seeking to establish a national reserve force of healthcare professionals that can be immediately deployed in times of disasters and public health emergencies.

The senator on Wednesday (May 13) filed Senate Bill No. 1527, or the Medical Reserve Corps Act, which shall establish a Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) specifically trained to supplement the country’s human health resources in delivering urgent services to areas affected by disasters and health emergencies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of the country’s healthcare system, among them is the inability to cope with the surge of patients needing medical care due to lack of medically-trained personnel,” Cayetano pointed out.

“Like a highly-skilled reserve force that has been trained to assist the standing and regular military force as needed, the country can likewise benefit from a similar reserve force for our healthcare system,” she added.

The MRC will be composed of licensed healthcare service practitioners, medical reservists of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), public health experts, scientists, and non-medical volunteers trained for health emergencies and other necessary services.

The medical reservists will be placed under the Health Emergency Management Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH), and will be given compulsory basic training and continuing training programs on responding to different national and local health emergency scenarios.

Under Cayetano’s proposal, the DOH may enlist the assistance of the AFP in organizing the paramilitary structure of the MRC for its efficient, effective, and swift deployment, and provide further training for medical reservists in disaster and emergency response.

The medical reservists can be mobilized to conduct contact-tracing and monitor suspected cases during disease outbreaks, help ensure quarantine measures, and provide logistics and manpower support for large-scale disaster and health emergency operations.

“The MRC may be mobilized partially or in full as may be necessary. All members when called to service shall continue to receive all pay, allowances, and other privileges and benefits from his/her regular employment during the mobilization period,” the bill read.

SBN 1527 also proposes the establishment of mobilization centers in every province, where MRC members can register for duty. The centers should be adequate enough to house the MRC members, equipment and facilities, and other supplies needed during their period of deployment. #

File photo: Senator Pia S. Cayetano


Pia seeks probe on readiness of PH health system for the ‘new normal’

Senator Pia S. Cayetano seeks to conduct legislative inquiries into the current state of the country’s public health infrastructure and health service delivery, with the end goal of improving our responsiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic and other future health emergencies.

The senator on Wednesday (May 13) filed two Senate resolutions urging the appropriate committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the future of our public health system in preparation for the ‘new normal.’

Senate Resolution No. (SRN) 403 seeks to assess the capacity of the “public health infrastructure and the accessibility of vital medical equipment and supplies” to respond to the current pandemic and future health emergencies.

While acknowledging that supplemental measures allowed the government to reinforce the healthcare system for COVID-19, Cayetano noted that mounting cases continue to push our healthcare facilities to their capacity limits.

“Modeling forecasts show that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country may peak towards 70,000 to 75,000 cases within the next three months,” the senator noted, citing a report by the Department of Health (DOH).

“Despite having 68 percent of the country’s hospital beds in Level 2 and Level 3 hospitals where COVID-19 patients can be treated… recent estimates [still] show that hospitals in the country fall relatively short from the optimal 42,856 beds, with one hospital bed available for every 1,121 Filipino patients,” she further cited.

Furthermore, Cayetano mentioned the lack of basic sanitation facilities in the country’s healthcare centers. A 2019 World Health Organization study revealed that four percent of health facilities in the Philippines have no toilets, while 23 percent utilize unsanitary toilets, thus allowing the spread of infection among communities.

The senator also pointed the need to address lack of access to medical equipment in the country, stating that the ‘new normal’ requires that we have an adequate supply of vital medical equipment and materials to meet both medical and public consumption needs.

“Recent reports show that there are 1,937 mechanical ventilators for COVID-19 patients, which remains relatively insufficient given the standing 8,361 active cases in hospitals as of 11 May 2020…  The alarming number of COVID-19 cases among health workers [also] highlights the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)… with hospitals estimated to use an average of 200 to 500 PPEs per day,” Cayetano noted.

“These aspects of the country’s health system, if remained unchecked amid the projected trends of this virus, may strain our capacity to effectively control and prevent the spread of the disease and to significantly transition to an imminent new state of normalcy,” the senator said, as she pushed to review existing policies on public health infrastructure and access to vital medical supplies, to ensure the country’s healthcare capacity and self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, Cayetano also filed SRN 404, calling for a hearing by the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking, which she chairs, on the effects of COVID-19 on the future of our health service delivery.

“With the onset of the New Normal, existing practices and systems in health service delivery, such as physical clinics, face-to-face triage, and paper-based prescriptions, may be ineffective in responding to the need for stricter respiratory hygiene and physical distancing measures,” she stressed.

As such, the senator said different sectors – the academe, private sector, and government – should collaborate to explore possible outcomes, emerging ideas, and innovative opportunities and strategies for a better delivery of health services during the ‘new normal.’

“We should employ futures thinking as an essential strategy in dealing with this issue. It is a method of informed reflections on the possible futures of various aspects of life,” said Cayetano, who is an advocate for Futures Literacy among Filipinos, especially among policymakers. #

Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking, presides over the panel’s virtual hearing on the necessary innovations and strategies in adapting to the ‘new normal’ following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pia files Safe Pathways Act to support biking, walking in the new normal

Senator Pia S. Cayetano says biking and walking as a means of travel are bound to become an integral part of the ‘new normal’ to keep more people safe from COVID-19.

The senator on Monday (May 11) filed Senate Bill No. 1518 or the “Safe Pathways Act” to create a network of pop-up bicycle lanes and emergency pathways that would connect people to essential destinations during the pandemic, all while ensuring that physical distancing is maintained.

Cayetano said there is well-founded fear that the cramped buses, jeeps and trains are hot-spots for the spread of COVID-19.  Thus, these “people-oriented and pedestrian-friendly” bike lanes and emergency pathways will help augment the limited forms of transportation and mobility allowed under the community quarantines, and may also be adopted in the long term to help decongest roads and reduce pollution in the country.

“As our cities see air quality improve during the lockdowns, there’s an incentive not to return to the pre-lockdown air pollution levels,” she said, citing the reported 180% decrease in particulate matter (PM2.5) in NCR since the enhanced community quarantine was imposed last March 16.

Particulate matter (PM) refers to the mixture of all solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the atmosphere, many of which are hazardous.

Overall, Cayetano said walking, biking, and the use of other non-motorized vehicles reduce carbon emissions, use less energy and resources, and provide multiple health benefits that increase people’s quality of life. SBN 1518 particularly promotes the use of these modes of transportation as the primary means of travel in the time of COVID-19.

“As we adjust to the new normal, it is inconceivable to just go back to the way we were. This health crisis forces us to rethink our way of life and explore changes that will improve our overall health and quality of life. Planning our cities and transport system require a Futures Thinking frame of mind,” said Cayetano.

Under the bill, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), in coordination with Local Government Units (LGUs), shall establish pop-up bike lanes with necessary space to accommodate the one-meter physical distancing rule.

LGUs shall also create designated emergency pathways along local roads that will give pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized vehicle users access to frequented destinations by restricting motorized vehicle passage during peak hours.

Moreover, adequate parking spaces for bicycles and non-motorized vehicles shall be set up in all public places, government offices, schools, places of work, and commercial establishments, including malls, banks, and hospitals. The private sector is also encouraged to develop infrastructure and programs for the same purposes.

Lastly, the bill shall mandate DOTr and DPWH, in coordination with appropriate agencies, to prepare the permanent adoption of the established bike lanes, emergency pathways, non-motorized parking spaces, and other appropriate infrastructure, after COVID-19 is no longer a threat.

A biking and fitness enthusiast, Cayetano earlier filed the ‘National Bicycle Act of 2019,’ seeking to institutionalize policies, infrastructure, and facilities to properly integrate bicycles as part of our public transportation system.

All these efforts are in line with the country’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular: SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being); SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy); SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure); SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities); SDG 13 (Climate Action); and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). #

File Photo: Senator Pia S. Cayetano bikes along the protected bike lane in Laguna Lake Highway (C6). The highway which connects Taytay, Rizal to Taguig City also has a separate protected lane for pedestrians and joggers.
File Photo: Senator Pia S. Cayetano has always advocated bikers’ safety. She is the author of the National Bicycle Act (Senate Bill No.285), which seeks the recognition of biking as an alternative mode of transportation in government policy and programs.

Pia renews call for Build, Build, Build for Health to equip PH for new normal

As the world faces a health crisis, Senator Pia S. Cayetano is pushing anew for the passage of a proposed measure that seeks to fast track the government’s health infrastructure initiatives.

The senator filed last year the Priority Health Infrastructure Bill (Senate Bill No. 63), known also as the ‘Build, Build, Build for Health’ Bill, which aims to create a comprehensive and sustainable approach to health infrastructure over the next five years.

“I filed this in the Senate last year, and the timing for its discussion is perfect now. As we begin a new normal due to the COVID-19 threat, we need to be forward thinking and put health care infrastructure on top of our priorities,” Cayetano stressed.

Citing the two recent online forums she attended last Thursday (April 23) – the  Asia-Pacific Parliamentarian Forum on Global Health and the World Bank Group’s Virtual Parliamentary Meeting on Pandemics and COVID-19 – Cayetano said “what was emphasized time and again” was the need for countries with less than adequate health care systems to focus on improving the delivery of their basic health care, particularly by addressing the health care needs of infants, mothers, the elderly, and the infirm or sickly.

“If communities are self-sufficient and can take care of the basic health care needs of their residents, that is already a huge step forward. Then, the next step would be the establishment of specialty medical centers for patients who need to be referred to these specialists,” Cayetano explained.

“Likewise, it is a good time to redesign our country’s health care facilities, to keep our health workers safe and to address the fear and the reality that these very facilities that are there to provide health remedies are also hot spots for the spread of viruses and germs,” she further noted.

SBN 63 takes off from the Duterte administration’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ Program for public works and is anchored on the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 to accelerate human capital development through quality health care services.

The measure is also expected to put the Philippines on track in attaining its target to provide essential health care for all by 2030 under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Under the bill, the Department of Health (DOH) shall be assigned to determine priority health infrastructure needs of government hospitals to be integrated in a five-year plan. An annual P10-billion budget shall be allocated for the improvement of health facilities in priority areas.

“On the other hand, given what we are currently experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am hopeful that this amount would be increased tenfold in the succeeding years,” said Cayetano, principal author and sponsor of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA 11469).

“Let’s learn from our experiences during this global health crisis. To most effectively protect and promote the health of our people against future crises, we need to revitalize and strengthen our public health infrastructure. This will require political and financial support over time,” she added.

As former chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Cayetano led the passage of several landmark laws to enhance public health services. Among these are the Mental Health Act (RA 11036), the National Health Insurance Act (RA 10606), the Philippine National Health Research System Act (RA 10532), the Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act (RA 10512), and the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RA 10354).#

Senator Pia joins the opening of the Human Milk Bank facility of the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City.