FIRING LINE: ‘Ayuda’ and contact tracing

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Last week, Firing Line called out the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for not allocating a centavo for contract tracing and cash assistance or “ayuda” in the 2022 National Expenditure Program (NEP) it submitted before Congress.

Today, as the record P5.024-trillion national budget bill for 2022 goes to the House plenary for deliberations, this corner urges our representatives in Congress to make the proper realignments so that funding for these two indispensable components of our country’s pandemic response are secured.

Let me point out that even with the government’s shifting of quarantine strategy to the Alert Level System that allows the general resumption of work and business, lockdowns are still being imposed in localities with high infection rates. For the thousands – if not millions, when this policy is adopted nationwide – whose income capabilities are halted for two weeks, the government should have an “ayuda” system to ensure their families are at least fed.

Also, how many times have experts underscored the need for efficient contact tracing to arrest mass COVID-19 infections? Isn’t this pandemic response component more important under the new alert level system implemented in Metro Manila?

In case sourcing funds for these two items becomes as difficult as the DBM’s eyes could see, then perhaps begin with reassessing the allocation for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the playhouse of red-taggers in the Duterte administration, which has P28 billion for 2022.

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Luck has shone its light on Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., at least with the other half of the ruling PDP-Laban party counting him on its list of eight, so far, candidates for the Senate in 2022.  Roque, though, seems to have a knack for squandering his luck by burying his most likable traits in the eyes of the Filipino electorate.

As a lawyer known the past two decades (before joining the Duterte administration) as a human rights advocate, he now speaks in defense of the war on drugs. And that’s precisely why the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), a group of his peers, has raised objections to his nomination to be part of a United Nations experts panel on international law.

Then, this level-headed face of Malacanang before the press turns ice-cold towards members of the sector most beloved by this nation for fighting this pandemic and saving lives. By his reckless hand, he swings at the sector of medical frontliners with a fury of words he meant off-the-record. But as his luck had it, it had been one of the most viral outbursts captured on video that is second only to the ones dished out by his boss. Good luck in May, Mr. Spokesperson. You’ll need it.

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