Body bags included in shopping list:

CDC approves P900-M ‘wish list’ vs. COVID-19, emerging diseases

Local chief executives and other members of the Catanduanes Development Council (CDC) last week unanimously okayed a P900-million Supplemental Annual Investment Plan covering programs, projects and activities aimed at containing the Coronavirus Infectious Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the island province.

In her brief statement before a vote was taken on the issue, Acting Governor Shirley Abundo said the Supplemental AIP No. 2 is a product of a workshop undertaken by four clusters of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of the Provincial Task Force on Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases (PTF-EREID).

With a period of implementation stretching from March to August which coincides with the six-month state of calamity declared by the national government, the Supplemental AIP includes proposals submitted by the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC), which is expected to handle majority of the confirmed COVID-19 cases, especially those suffering from severe and critical symptoms.

“The plan only considers what programs, projects and activities will be implemented but their actual implementation will depend on the availability of funds,” the acting chief executive told the council in its April 1, 2020 meeting at the provincial capitol.

Among those present were Mayors Peter Cua of San Andres, Juan Rodulfo of Bato,  Francisco Camano Jr. of San Miguel, Remegio Villaluna of Bagamanoc, Glenda Aguilar of Caramoran, Honesto Tabligan III of Pandan, Jose Paolo Teves II of Baras, Sinforoso Sarmiento Jr. of Virac, Cesar Robles of Panganiban and Vicente Tayam Jr. of Gigmoto. Mayor Emeterio Tarin of Viga was not at the meeting, which was also attended by representatives of accredited non-government organizations (NGOs) and key provincial officials.

“We are not sure if we can come up with P900 million,” Abundo said, “but we have to prepare as we don’t know how long the quarantine will last.”

It was disclosed that among the funds that will be tapped aside from the contributions of national agencies are the 5% Calamity Fund and the continuing appropriations of the 20% Development Fund for 2020.

Citing one of the programs in the list, the acting governor described as a heavy burden even the distribution of just 25 kilos of rice for each of the estimated 57,709 households in Catanduanes, which will cost roughly P70 million.

“Mabigat-bigat,” she remarked, adding that the cash back-up required for such expenditures is a big problem.

“We can release funds for up to April only,” Abundo disclosed. “We will have to wait for May and June. Hanggang doon lang kami.”

Under the Preparedness program against COVID-19 for which the council allocated P43,394,443.00, nearly P40 million will be spent for various equipment, medicines and supplies for use at the EBMC.

These include a 250-KVA genset, an ambulance with advanced life support equipment, CCTV system and portable radios, appliances, aluminum window screens, laboratory supplies, medicines and medical supplies, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and similar supplies. Also in the list are equipment such as nebulizer, pulse oximeter, ventilator, portable ultrasound machine, backpack mist blower, and cold fogger, among others, costing a total of P15.8 million.

The amount of P52,218,179.00 will go to Prevention and Response Operations, which include medical supplies, office supplies and medicines for health workers in the monitoring and surveillance of persons under quarantine; food and subsistence, medical supplies and materials for those under quarantine; load allowance for Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) and Municipal Epidemiology Surveillance Units (MESUs); medical supplies and fuel for use in transporting Persons Under Investigation and in mobilizing health workers; medical supplies for hospital frontliners; supplies for the cleaning and disinfection of public facilities; medical equipment and supplies for case management in hospitals; and, fuel, communication allowance and other supplies to be incurred in coordination efforts with the Department of Health (DOH).

Over half of the total amount, or P30 million, will be used for the establishment, operation and maintenance of three (3) alternative quarantine centers in Virac, namely, the Catanduanes National High School (CNHS), Virac Pilot Elementary School (VPES) and Virac Central Elementary School (VCES).

According to Acting Gov. Abundo, 46 chapels around the province have been identified as shelter areas for health workers.

Also in the list of prevention and response requirements are hygiene kits for BHERTs, food and subsistence for the EOC operation, and body bags for dead persons with COVID-19.

The allocation for body bags was placed at P300,000.00, which based on the current overseas market price of US$33 to $80 per piece will be good for about 66 to 157 pieces, according to calculations by the Tribune.

For Peace & Order and Safety, the Supplemental AIP set aside P12,659.040.00, of which P12.4 million will go to the conduct of checkpoint and border control by the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Army, Philippine Coast Guard, and the Philippine Red Cross. The expense largely involves food, subsistence, fuel, medical supplies and materials in the daily operation of 23 checkpoints and border controls.

The balance will be spent for providing security to PUI and PUM quarantine areas, 20 business establishments and warehouses, curfew implementation, and security of doctors and medical staff during the transfer of PUIs and PUMs.

An amount totaling P318,000.00 was approved for Information and Communication activities, including P107,400.00 for the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the Philippine Broadcasting Services-Radyo Pilipinas Catanduanes (PBS-RPC) in producing news releases, advisories and photo releases, conduct of radio programs and press briefings, distribution of IEC materials, posting on the Catanduanes PIA page, IEC on COVID prevention, issues and concerns via broadcast and social media, news gathering and production, attending meetings, and news releases via radio broadcast and Facebook live.

The amount is supposed to be spent for supplies and materials, meals and snacks, gasoline and load allowance of personnel of the two agencies.

This allocation for the government media, however, was questioned by Cooperative Union of Catanduanes (CUC) chairperson Cris Marasigan, who pointed out that there is no need for the extra funding, as the proposed activities are already included in the inherent and regular functions of the PIA and PBS.

On the other hand, Caritas Virac Justice and Peace, Inc. has been allocated P210,600.00 for load allowance for the Diocese of Virac and its 36 parishes that will provide counselling through cellphones and broadcast of religious rites through Public Address systems and social media platforms,

The biggest allocation, P235,182,218.00, goes to  Food Security and Provision of Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation, including over P216 million for the purchase of 173,127 bags of NFA rice, which will be distributed to 57,709 households in Catanduanes at three (3) bags per household.

This could prove to be difficult as the local office of the National Food Authority (NFA) has less than 10,000 bags of rice available in its warehouses, with only about 20,000 bags expected to arrive as part of the 160,000-bag augmentation for the Bicol region in the next few weeks.

Acting Gov. Abundo bared that the province will source P7.5 million from the Calamity Fund to provide each of 24,000 households with 12 kilos of rice and canned goods.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will also distribute food packs consisting of rice, canned goods and coffee to 4,582 households, worth a total of P5.1 million, while P42 million will come in the form of similar food packs, medical and burial assistance under the AICS program.

For its part, the DOLE will be spending P5,000,300.00 in the form of livelihood assistance to 1,612 households under the Barangay Ko, Bahay Ko (BKBK) program wherein workers in the informal sector would disinfect their own homes for 10 days at P310 per day.

An item providing P990,000.00 for the distribution of assorted vegetables and vegetable seedlings for backyard gardening to 300 households per municipality was described by Pandan Mayor Honesto Tabligan III as inadequate and not sustainable, prompting the council to increase funding to cover all households on the island.

Fifteen million pesos is also included in the Supplemental AIP for COVID-19 as provision for hazard pay of health and other personnel of the provincial government during the quarantine period. Caramoran Mayor Glenda Aguilar appealed for the inclusion of BHERT members, who she said should at least be given P500 per month as honoraria for the six months that they would be rendering voluntary services.

There are four BHERT members per barangay, meaning each of the 1,260 volunteers will at least receive P1,000 incentive for their role in containing COVID-19, especially on non-contact monitoring of PUMs and PUIs in their villages.

The CDC also approved without amendments the amount of P505 million for Preparedness, Prevention and Response Operations for other emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, if any of them shows up this May to December 2020.

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