The controversy surrounding the draft implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of a Congress-approved Vaccination Program Act of 2021 brought to fore an underlying problem. A Malacanang official dropped the ball since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic struck us exactly a year ago.
As the head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), Secretary Adelino Sitoy is supposed to handle vital legislative bills of President Rodrigo Duterte and shepherd their approval in both chambers of Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives. The PLLO handles, among its functions, coordination of Malacanang with Congress.
While there is a functioning Legislative-Executive Advisory Council (LEDAC), there has been no Sitoy doing the PLLO job to gather and put together common efforts and measures in the 18th Congress. Sitoy has been missing in action while President Duterte and his Cabinet work out with Congress legislative measures to further protect and save as many lives of Filipinos while the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in our country.
Methinks, the PLLO could have watched over the drafting of the IRR on Republic Act (RA) 11525, or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021. The Department of Health (DOH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Task Force (NTF), among other government agencies involved in the anti-COVID responses of the government were mandated to work out the IRR. The drafting of the IRR normally must be done in consultation with the various stakeholders, including members of the 18th Congress who authored RA 11525.
Somewhere, somehow, what popped out in the draft IRR was Section 5 that stated the DOH and NTF shall review all requests of private entities to procure vaccines “to ensure that private entities who will be part of the agreement are not in any way related to the tobacco industry, products covered under EO (Executive Order) 51 series of 1986, or the National Code of Marketing of breast milk substitutes, breast milk supplement and other related products, or other products in conflict with public health.”
Caught by surprise where this inserted provision came from, lawmakers led by Senate president Vicente Sotto III were hopping mad over this usurpation of authority. This is because nowhere in RA 11525 bars private sector to procure anti-COVID vaccines. “The people need all the help they can get and they are preventing it,” Sotto fumed.
Thanks to the veteran Senator who found the discriminatory provision in the draft IRR being circulated among the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) and the NTF. With the full trust and confidence of not only his fellow Senators but also other people in the government, the Senate president was furnished with the draft. Having demonstrated his brand of leadership who can preside the Senate proceedings above politics, Sotto has shown his mastery of legislative procedures. But most of all, Sotto is seen as a leader who cannot be intimidated by anyone nor can be corrupted.
Unfortunately, the good intentions of the lawmakers have not been properly reaching the Office of the President due to his “missing in action” PLLO head.
In fact, two key legislations that caused wide divide between Malacañang and Congress last year before the pandemic were the bills fulfilling President Duterte’s campaign promises of returning the coconut levy to farmers and instituting security of tenure of Filipino workers. After getting these bills passed as early as 2019 by a friendly Congress, President Duterte vetoed these bills.
Legislators eventually passed the two bills and got President Duterte finally signed these into laws. But at what great costs and wastes of precious time and government resources. Senators and Congressmen blame the unnecessary veto to the lack of coordination between Malacanang and Congress, especially during the plenary debate stages when the PLLO traditionally manages the attendance of Cabinet officials involved in vital legislations.
A former Mayor of Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu, Sitoy was always absent due to his bigger interests in local politics in his province. In fact, during the past 12 months that the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading in the Philippines, the 85-year old Sitoy sat out the health crisis at the safe distance at his residence in Lapu-Lapu City.
Imagine, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has to work double time in coordinating legislation passed by Congress and have them approved by President Duterte. As special assistant to the President, Sen. Go still has to address concerns by his fellow legislators. And this is because Sitoy has not been on the job.
Through hybrid procedure of internet tele-conference and a limited number of Senators and Congressmen physically attending at the session halls, the lawmakers expeditiously acted on vital laws needed by President Duterte, especially to beef up the government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic like RA 11525. Hopefully, Sitoy was virtually doing his job, too while the 18th Congress handled the legislations.
Sitoy recently emerged in Malacañang as reported in a Facebook post of PLLO assistant secretary Orville Balitoc to supposedly bid goodbye to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea Jr. Allegedly, Sitoy informed the Executive Secretary of his plan to resign by September this year, or a month before the official filing of certificates of candidacy in the May, 2022 national and local elections.
With just 15 months before he leaves his Malacanang office, President Duterte needs a PLLO in the molds of Gabriel Claudio, Jose Jaime Policarpio Jr., and Gualberto Lumauig to see through his remaining unfulfilled legislative agenda. But more importantly, an on-the-job PLLO could stop this nefarious practice by unelected officials legislating via IRR.
Fortunately, the questioned IRR insertion got scrapped. No thanks to Sito
- COMMONSENSE – Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star)