House Speaker, solons file 'new normal' bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 28) — What will be the "new normal" in the Philippines as the threat of COVID-19 persists?

For Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and seven other House leaders, it will involve the mandatory wearing of face masks in public places and observing physical distancing. There will also be drastic changes in how people work and move.

Cayetano and his colleagues on Monday filed House Bill 6623 or the proposed “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act,” which seeks to institutionalize a new way of life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the bill, persons who fail to wear a mask in public will be fined P1,000.

There should also be a distance of at least one meter between persons in all public places. The operation of motorcycle taxis will remain suspended since the rider and passenger are too close to each other.

Passengers in other forms of public transportation should be seated one seat apart from each other and be made to pay through “contact-less” methods.

The bill also proposes the suspension of classes and other school activities until further notice, though without prejudice to the academic freedom and levels of autonomy enjoyed by institutions of higher learning.

However, both private and public schools should come up with online platforms to allow students to learn online.

The bill also requires malls and other commercial establishments to limit the number of people inside their premises. Restaurants can no longer offer buffets or salad bars. Their menu booklets should also be disposable.

HB 6623 also requires all private businesses to come up with a management plan for the “new normal.” This should contain, among others, the total number of employees allowed to work inside the office and the overall strategy for reporting of the workforce.

Private employers should also state their plans for managing employees who exhibit symptoms and/or confirmed to have tested for COVID-19.

Gatherings in government-managed public spaces as well as privately-managed spaces will be highly regulated. Privately-organized gatherings may be dispersed by the local government if it is established that the persons involved are not following mandatory safety measures, including social distancing and wearing of face masks.

The bill also orders the Philippine Statistics Authority to fast-track the implementation of the national ID system. The Department of Information and Communications Technology should also expedite the rollout of the national broadband program.

Other government agencies will also be required to create online platforms so the public can do their transactions on the internet.

If passed into law, HB 6623 will be effective for three years or shorter if the national government declares that the threat of COVID-19 has been eradicated.

Joining Cayetano as co-authors of the bill are Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Loren Legarda and Paolo Duterte, House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Yap, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor and Bulacan Rep. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado.