Duterte signs Go's Malasakit Center law in Malacañang ceremony

MANILA, Philippines – A pet bill of President Rodrigo Duterte's closest aide is getting special treatment – no less than a signing ceremony in Malacañang.

The Malasakit Center Act was signed into law by the President on Tuesday, December 3, in a Palace gathering where another law, one moving the barangay and youth council elections to 2022 was also signed.

The law, now called Republic Act No. 11463, is a pet project of Senator Bong Go, who is most known for being Duterte's longtime and most trusted aide. Go is the author of the Senate's version of the bill.

The measure is among the first bills produced by the 18th Congress to be signed by the Chief Executive into law.

What are Malasakit Centers? The law orders that Malasakit Centers be established in every government hospital.

A Malasakit Center is an area in a hospital where impoverished patients can go to seek financial assistance for medical needs from PhilHealth, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Putting desks representing all these agencies is supposed to make it easier for patients, since they will only need to go to one place, the Malasakit Center, to get financial help.

"The long lines and tedious processes for availment of financial medical assistance will be things of the past," said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a statement.

He also called Malasakit Centers as complementary to the country's Universal Health Care Program.

Politicized program. Go has been associated with Malasakit Centers because, even in his days as Duterte's special assistant, he had been advocating for them and studiously gracing the openings of Malasakit Centers nationwide.

Critics accused him of using these Malasakit Center launches, conducted using government resources, to boost his 2019 senatorial campaign.

It did not help that these centers often displayed banners with Go's face and name, prompting the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to ask the health department to take them down.

When opposition lawmaker Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman called Malasakit Centers a "partisan tool" and spoke of complaints about the program, Go resorted to ad hominem attacks with comments about Lagman's face.

Lagman had also accused Go of using his influence in the House to hasten the signing of the Malasakit Center law. He said House Bill No 5477, the lower house's version of the bill, was a mere "copycat" of Go's bill which had substituted another bill at the last minute.

The substitution meant the bicameral committee could be skipped since the House bill is identical to the Senate bill and there would be no differences to resolve.

The House bill was also approved on 2nd reading without quorum in the House plenary, said Lagman. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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