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‘New normal’ House Bill 6623 explained

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Three of the biggest challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic are public healthy safety, employment security, and food scarcity. When executed properly, this will translate into totally eradicating the virus while responding to the supply and demand to maintain economic stability.

While the government is doing its best in resolving the pandemic problem, they also require mutual understanding and cooperation among its people.

Life after the COVID-19 pandemic

In the Philippines, eight (8) congress leaders have officially filed the ‘new normal’ bill entitled “2020 New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act” or the House Bill 6623. Various measures and regulations that we are doing now under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) will remain for a maximum of three years or until the further announcement of the president. It will be implemented once the ECQ is lifted in most areas of the nation.

Authored by Alan Peter Cayetano (House Speaker); Loren Legarda, LRay Villafuerte, and Paolo Duterte (Deputy House Speakers); Martin Romualdez (House Majority Leader); and Jose Antonio Alvarado (House Committee for Good Governance), Eric Yap (House Committee for Appropriations), & Mike Defensor (House Committee for Public Accounts), it formally institutionalizes social, physical, and economic practices across the country.

On its note of explanation, the principles of the bill are based on the protection of the vulnerable Filipino citizens to ensure the public health safety, guarantee human rights, and facilitate a holistic & inclusivity across industries and sectors. It envisions the society to usher paths of prevention and treatment through the people being accustomed to the ‘new normal’.

General Precautions for Health and Security

Under the House Bill 6623, everyone who is seen visible in the public shall be required to wear a face mask of any kind (surgical, N95, disposable, synthetic, etc.) and keep a considerable physical distance against each other. This is applicable in public places such as markets, groceries, offices, places of worship, and modes of transportation. Anyone who commits a violation shall be fined for a Php1,000 with forced community service for a day.

Once the public mode of transportation resumes, all passengers are required to perform four things to adhere to the new normal.

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1. Passengers should sanitize both of their hands using the alcohol from the ride’s entrance upon boarding.

2. Each individual should be at least one seat far from each other.

3. People boarding the vehicle must wear a face mask of any variant.

4. A contactless mode of payment must be established by the operator before a ride gets going in national highways.

Consequently, the motorcycle ride-hailing apps and operators will be suspended until further notice. Since the passenger and rider are in close contact with each other, they pose a threat to the imminent spread of the virus in one way or another. Each violation shall escalate from minor to major offense depending on the situation.

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What will happen to schools?

The sector of education is largely affected by the lockdown that started March 15 where schools, colleges, and universities halted classroom-based discussions and activities.

All academic and curricular happenings must be suspended with all due respect to the scholastic freedom and autonomy. The remaining details shall be consulted side by side with the Department of Education from Pre-School, Elementary, High School, and Senior High School) and Commission of Higher Education (College and Vocational Courses).

UPDATE: Education Secretary Leonor Briones has declared that official opening of classes will begin on August 24, 2020.

READ: How COVID-19 changed the academic calendar of colleges and universities in the Philippines

Private schools and public institutions should build virtual platforms for online learning. Tuition fees and other school-related fees should be subjected to further discussion with the school or university board of directors, school governing bodies or organizations, and concerned parents. However, if a student will not be able to attend these online-based classes for valid reasons such as lack of technical equipment, internet connection, and computer rental fee, he/she shall not be penalized.

‘New Normal’ Business Standards

Private businesses should come up with a plan of action for every staff or executive who is showing symptoms of COVID-19. Once a case is confirmed, a mandatory 14-day quarantine is required for all employees to avoid infection. Here are the other conditions per sector that must be met according to the new normal bill:

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Commercial Shops

Various establishments such as groceries, shopping malls, boutiques, supermarkets, banks, and profit-based shops should allow a certain number of people depending on the size of the location. Once approved, there should be a time given for each individual upon entry. Also, there should be a piece of public evidence that they are promoting online shopping and contactless payment on their counters.

Food Industry

House Bill 6623 shall require food-based industries to limit people entering the stall or shops. These businesses shall only accept delivery and takeout services for all food orders.

Dine-in services shall only be allowed upon further notice of the government. They need to maintain at least two meters of distance between dining tables without setting up food buffets, salad bars, and catering while all menu books must be disposed of daily.

Industrial and Business Office Workplaces

Meetings that will be held in the offices should be discouraged as virtual meetings will only be allowed. Elevators must only have a maximum number of four people for every run. Desks must be physically distant for at least two meters as no desk, tool, or computer sharing is allowed. Food vending should be placed on cafeterias with tables at least two meters from each other.  

Entertainment and Leisure Businesses

Face masks, gloves, and sanitization paraphernalia should be worn and present by all employees during their shift hours. Tools that contacts any part of the human body must be regularly sanitized and disinfected. Overcrowding in the audience or customer seats should never be tolerated and sharing of equipment will not be allowed.

The National Identification System

A special clause on the house bill contains the government’s mandate to implement the National ID system that was penned by the Senate. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shall be responsible for collecting the information from the public and create a database for an improved process of contact tracing.

Government institutions are required to craft an online-based platform to process transactions such as payments and applications with the use of the internet. The Department of Information and Communications Technology must rollout a program to develop a faster internet service and make broadband available for the country.

Violations and Penalties

As mentioned, all offenses made against the ‘New Normal’ bill will account for a fine of at least Php1,000 but not exceeding to Php 50,000. The violation is also logged by the NBI as part of a person’s criminal background. Penalties include imprisonment with a minimum of 2 months to 12 months depending on the gravity of the case.

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