MANILA - The House of Representatives approved on final reading two of President Rodrigo Duterte’s priority bills, two days after lawmakers were pushed by the Chief Executive in his final State of the Nation Address to pass those.
In separate rounds of voting, the House approved House Bill 9559 or the “Virology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) Act” (198-0-0) and House Bill 9560 or the “Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) Act” (193-6-0).
As proposed, the virology institute will focus on the following areas:
- Research on viruses using a modern approach such as molecular biology and its application or biotechnology
- Development of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics
- International cooperation and network of databases of virus infections
- Operation of a virus gene bank, virus genome laboratory, and virus reference laboratory to focus on viruses circulating in the Philippines for disease prevention and epidemiological studies
- Operation of a virus high containment laboratory dedicated to the study of highly infectious and highly pathogenic viruses
It would be an attached agency under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
The Philippine CDC, meanwhile, would be an attached agency of the Department of Health (DOH) "for policy and program coordination" and a "technical authority on all matters regarding disease prevention and control."
Under the proposed measure, the following DOH units, divisions or functions would be transferred to the CDC:
- Epidemiology Bureau
- Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM)
- Sexually Transmitted Disease – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (STD-AIDS) Cooperative Central Laboratory
- Select functions of the International Health Surveillance Division of the Bureau of Quarantine as follows: passive international health surveillance; development of communication methods for wider and more effective delivery of critical public health information with international importance; technical and standard setting functions of the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau including that of the Mental Health Division, Cancer Division and Oral Health Division
The bill also aims to establish Regional Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (RCDCs).
House health committee chair Angelina “Helen” Tan, the measures' principal sponsor, welcomed the passage of the bills which will be sent to the Senate for action.
Tan said that the VIP Act will facilitate the country's preparation against pandemic or public health emergencies.
She emphasized the importance as well of the CDC Act, which she said will modernize the Philippines' public health emergency capabilities and strengthen agencies mandated to respond to transmittable disease through institutional reforms.
Members of the Makabayan bloc objected to the approval of the CDC Act despite recognizing the intention of the bill.
“This representation is gravely concerned about the possible, imminent loss of jobs due to the transfer of certain DOH units and functions. Staffing provisions do not ensure security of tenure," Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also questioned what will happen to current employees of RITM, the Epidemiology Bureau and other agencies that will be affected if the CDC is established.
"If they can't qualify to be accepted into the CDC, will they lose their job even if they have been working there for 10 years now?" he asked in vernacular.
House ways and means panel chair Albay Rep. Joey Salceda earlier said the CDC bill can enacted into law this year. He added that the proposed VIP would help the country be better prepared for pandemics in the future.
"It should be clear to all of us: preparation yields the best outcomes. The same goes for pandemics. It’s difficult to do because the rewards are not immediate. But the consequences to the unprepared can be catastrophic," he said.