MANILA – The House Committee on Health on Thursday approved a proposal granting President Rodrigo Duterte the authority to suspend the scheduled increases in the contribution rates of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Papogi sa tao! House panel OKs bill suspending Philhealth premium hike

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MANILA – The House Committee on Health on Thursday approved a proposal granting President Rodrigo Duterte the authority to suspend the scheduled increases in the contribution rates of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, chair of the House health panel, said the premium hike suspension would provide PhilHealth contributors immediate relief amid the hard times brought about by the coronavirus disease pandemic.

Tan, however, stressed that it should not in any manner undermine the ideals and goals of the Universal Health Care law, which has a noble intention of ensuring that all Filipinos are guaranteed access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and protected against financial risk.

This lofty ambition, however, should be supported by sufficient funds to sustain the reforms introduced by the UHC law, which is the rationale for annual and incremental increases on the premiums and to espouse a spirit of social solidarity so that those who have less in life should have more in law,” she said.

The proposal will grant the President of the Philippines power, in consultation with the Secretary of Finance, Secretary of Health, and PhilHealth Board, to suspend the implementation of the scheduled increases in premium rates in times of national emergencies when public interest so requires.

PhilHealth President Dante Gierran supported the deferment on the condition that the subsequent scheduled increases in the premium contributions shall be adjusted to fall on the years following the lifting of the suspension and that the implementation of comprehensive outpatient benefits will also be deferred during the period that there is no corresponding premium increase being implemented.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, a principal author of the bill, said suspending the imposition of the new PhilHealth premium rates will provide a much-needed relief from the negative effects of the pandemic and will assure Filipinos that the government is sensitive to their sentiments.

“While we recognize that the [PhilHealth] only aims to implement the provisions of RA 11223, imposing a higher premium rate to our kababayans under our current conditions will definitely enforce a new round of financial burden to its members,” Velasco said.

Velasco said Filipinos have barely recovered from the losses and difficulties brought by Covid-19.

“These are extraordinary times, thus the remedy needed to further unburden our countrymen are also extraordinary. These are necessary measures that need to be taken in order for us in government to extend help to those who need them the most,” Velasco said.

Under the UHC law, those who have a monthly basic salary of PHP10,000 and below will have a fixed contribution of PHP350 a month starting January 2021.

Those earning PHP10,000.01 to PHP69,999.99 have a monthly premium of PHP350 to PHP2,449.99, while those earning PHP70,000 and higher per month will pay a fixed rate of PHP2,450 monthly. (PNA)

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Chinese cyber-espionage unit on US hacking spree: report

At least 30,000 US organizations including local governments have been hacked in recent days by an “unusually aggressive” Chinese cyber-espionage campaign, according to a computer security specialist.

The campaign has exploited recently discovered flaws in Microsoft Exchange software, stealing email and infecting computer servers with tools that let attackers take control remotely, Brian Krebs said in a post at his cyber security news website.

“This is an active threat,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said when asked about the situation during a press briefing.

“Everyone running these servers needs to act now to patch them. We are concerned that there are a large number of victims,” she added.

After Microsoft released patches for the vulnerabilities on Tuesday, attacks “dramatically stepped up” on servers not yet updated with security fixes, said Krebs, who cited unnamed sources familiar with the situation.

“At least 30,000 organizations across the United States — including a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments — have over the past few days been hacked by an unusually aggressive Chinese cyber espionage unit that’s focused on stealing email from victim organizations,” Krebs wrote in the post.

He reported that insiders said hackers have “seized control” of thousands of computer systems around the world using password-protected software tools slipped into systems.

Microsoft said early this week that a state-sponsored hacking group operating out of China is exploiting previously unknown security flaws in its Exchange email services to steal data from business users.

The company said the hacking group, which it has named “Hafnium,” is a “highly skilled and sophisticated actor.”

Hafnium has in the past targeted US-based companies including infectious disease researchers, law firms, universities, defense contractors, think tanks, and NGOs.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Microsoft executive Tom Burt said the company had released updates to fix the security flaws, which apply to on-premises versions of the software rather than cloud-based versions, and urged customers to apply them.

“We know that many nation-state actors and criminal groups will move quickly to take advantage of any unpatched systems,” he added at the time.

Microsoft said the group was based in China but operated through leased virtual private servers in the United States, and that it had briefed the US government.

Beijing has previously hit back at US accusations of state-sponsored cyber theft. Last year it accused Washington of smears following allegations that Chinese hackers were attempting to steal coronavirus research.

In January, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies said Russia was probably behind the massive SolarWinds hack that shook the government and corporate security, contradicting then-president Donald Trump, who had suggested China could be to blame.

Microsoft said Tuesday the Hafnium attacks “were in no way connected to the separate SolarWinds-related attacks.” (AFP)

Werpa si Eba! Lord Velasco recognizes women’s role in nation building

By Billy Begas

Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco pays tribute to all Filipina for their pivotal role in nation-building even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Allow me to recognize all the strong, empowered and empowering women of the House. Kinaya at kinakaya natin ang laban sa pandemya because you kept everything steady here at work even as you faced the challenges with your families at home,” said Velasco.

At present, women make up 48 percent of the House workforce.

Records from the chamber’s Human Resource Management Service show that out of the 4,037 members and employees of the House, 1,941 are women. Of which, 85 are legislators, 649 are Secretariat employees, 940 are congressional staff members, and 267 are co-terminus and contractual workers.

The House has eight female deputy speakers namely Evelina Escudero (Sorsogon), Loren Legarda (Antique), Bernadette Herrera (Bagong Henerasyon party-list), Kristine Singson-Meehan (Ilocos Sur), Divina Grace Yu (Zamboanga del Sur), Camille Villar (Las Piñas City), Rose Marie Arenas (Pangasinan), and Vilma Santos-Recto (Batangas).

After Velasco’s election as Speaker in October 2020, the House elected a female Secretary General—Atty. Jocelia Bighani Sipin.

Sipin spearheaded the House Secretariat through a period of transition from October 12 to November 18 last year. She is currently the Deputy Secretary General assigned at the Office of the Speaker.

On March 8, female lawmakers will take full control of the plenary session as part of the annual tradition in the legislative chamber to mark the National Women’s Month and the International Women’s Day.

The all-women session will be led by Deputy Speaker Arenas, president of the Association of Women Legislators Foundation Inc. of the 18th Congress.

The plenary is set to adopt resolutions congratulating two Filipino-American appointees of United States President Joe Biden—Gloria Steele and Camille Calimlim Touton.

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