Congressmen defended on Tuesday, Nov. 17, the seemingly broad scope of the proposed Health Security Council, which has been designed to include even the Department of National Defense (DND) secretary.
The proposal is embodied in an unnumbered substitute bill, which the House Committee on Health approved in a virtual hearing. The measure was a consolidation of 14 individual House bills.
Before the measure’s passage, Makabayan bloc member and Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate couldn’t help but express reservations on Section 4 of the proposed law.
“It says that the Secretary of Health shall be the permanent chairperson of the Health Security Council with the Secretary of National Defense as co-chair. I understand they were included in the composition of the members since this council also covers bio-terrorism, chemical attack, nuclear attack, and attack of radioactive materials. To this representation…[these] should no longer be included in this bill since these are already security issues mainly, and not health issues,” he said.
Zarate further said that he feels the terms bio-terrorism, chemical attack, nuclear attack, and the like were merely added in the language of the bill in order to justify the DND secretary’s inclusion in the council.
In her response, Committee chairperson and Quezon province Rep. Angelina Tan said: “We’re looking not only at the health aspect but [also] the security threat that may affect our health.”
Tan, an author of the bill, said that as per Section 4, “health security” refers to activities both pro-active and reactive that are required to minimize the impact of acute public health events and danger to people’s health.
“Ang nakita natin sa pandemic ay sa ngayon nagre-react tayo sa mga nangyayari (What we’re seeing from this pandemic is that we’ve only been reacting to what has been happening). We are looking into the preventive aspect. Hindi lang naman siya paghahanda kung kailan nandyan na yung anumang threat (This isn’t about readiness when the threat already exists). It should be a continuous process,” she said.
The main author of the Health Security Council bill, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, gave a similar explanation.
“As to the query of why there’s a mention of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons, the overall objective of the bill really is to cover all types of health emergencies… all threats to the health and safety of the people are a matter of national security and public health security,” he said.
“In case of a biological terrorist attack, for example, such weapons target the health of persons. And that is why it is included in the concept of health security because this is in the overall framework of national security, which is defined as being a state or condition wherein the people’s welfare and well-being and way of life are enhanced and protected,” he further said.
Biazon explained that the DND is a necessary component of the planned Health Security Council because “the first capable, responsive responders” are usually from the military, which has the manpower to mobilize.
“They are organized and the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] can immediately deploy the first responders. And as we can see now in Cagayan, the response really was we were depending on AFP military assets to get things going,” he pointed out.
“The inclusion of the DND, we believe, is [a] necessary component, especially that we are also including into the concern of the body—of health security—the aspects of man-made threats to health, i.e. bioterrorism in the use of biological weapons and even nuclear weapons. That is the overall concept and logic why the DND is included in the council,” he added.