House tackles Salceda’s CDCP proposal certified urgent by Duterte in his SONA

The Lower House has began this week to tackle the bill seeking the creation of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP). Principally authored by Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, the measure aims to better prepare the country for deadly diseases and pandemics, protect lives, and allow development to proceed even in the worst of times.

House Bill No. 6096 was declared a priority measure by President Duterte during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July,  and was filed by Salceda in January in anticipation of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Salceda, chair of the House ways and means committee, said HB 6096 which has served as the basis for subsequent proposals in the House of Representatives, “will most likely be fast-tracked, considering the broad consensus of my colleagues and the President’s explicit pronouncement that we need this bill.”

The House Committee on Health deliberated during the week, via Zoom live conference, Salceda’s proposal, which lays out the frameworks for quarantine, disease surveillance, and contact tracing which he says could already be adopted and applied.

The pioneering feature in his bill is that it “introduces the concept of sudden onset of health emergencies. I came up with this proposal after studying international best practices, most notably those in China, Australia, and the United States. Of course the bill contextualizes these practices in the Philippine situation.” Salceda said.

President Duterte earlier called for the creation of the agency “to better prepare for pandemics, protect lives,” and allow developments to proceed even in the worst of times. “We are counting on the full support of Congress for this critically important endeavor. I’ll leave it to Congress to really… It’s another department,” he added.

The CDCP, once created, will likely be a separate agency supervised by the Health Emergency Coordinating Council (HECC), chaired by the Secretary of Health. Salceda believes this structure ensures that rapid response actions are not hampered by bureaucratic processes.

“There are health crises where cases have the potential to escalate in numbers and scope very quickly, and where coordinated efforts at containment and treatment are required immediately. That will often include law enforcement, community management, and a whole swathe of other disciplines. Clearly, that’s not just a doctor’s specialty anymore. So, you need a more holistic public health preparedness and response framework,” Salceda explained.

“The emergencies can come from anywhere, at any time, although their nature can be predicted, and thus prepared for. That’s why it works to have institutional muscle. It’s like preparing for the Olympics. You do decades of work and practice for the day when an emergency comes, except, unlike the Olympics, you don’t know when that day will be. So, we need a framework that’s not buried in the DOH bureaucracy to work full-time in preparing the country for future pandemics,” he added.

Widely considered by commentators in media as a pioneering and comprehensive approach to pandemic planning and management, Salceda’s bill, which has 167 co-authors in the House, contains the following provisions:

Creation of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as an agency under the supervision of the DOH, but with broader policymaking, implementation, surveillance, disease control and prevention powers over communicable or infectious diseases;

Replacement of the DOH Disease Control and Prevention Bureau by the CDCP which will absorb the communicable disease units of the existing bureau; Absorption of the Epidemiology Bureau and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine into the CDCP. This would strengthen the unit’s disease control and prevention capacity;

Creation of the Disease Emergency Management Bureau (DEMB) to calibrate the CDCP’s response to health emergencies; Grant of  broader quarantine powers to the Secretary of Health and the CDCP; Creation of the Health Emergency Coordination Council, which shall coordinate national government response to health emergencies, and which shall declare the existence of a state of health emergency;

Authorization for LGUs to use calamity funds during a state of health emergency; Broad health emergency powers to the HECC and the CDCP including a redefinition of the relationship between the CDCP and the Bureau of Quarantine relative to  health emergencies; Comprehensive health emergency management framework, including provisions for vaccination and treatment, isolation and quarantine, and disease surveillance;

Creation of the National Health Emergency Response Unit (NHERU) under the DEMB, which shall act as CDCP’s frontline force in ground and surveillance operations which shall be a well-trained unit of first-responders; A comprehensive framework for tracking public health emergencies; and

A mandate for the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of Health to recommend beneficial agreements on exchanges of health information with international organizations and with other countries.

Salceda said the CDCP bill is a twin of another measure he principally authored, the Department of Disaster Resilience.

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