We trust DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, after his admission of shortcomings, will quickly follow up with proactive and positive actions to address the issues and concerns raised by his own people at the DOH, as well as government and private physicians and health workers, against his leadership. It is they who have brought most of these concerns to the attention of the senators who signed the resolution calling for his resignation.
For a start, his display of humility should begin in his own department and field offices. After all, actions speak much louder and clearer than words.
Having said that, we have our Senate rules to follow. After referral, Senate Resolution 362 will trigger an inquiry by the appropriate committee/s, or a Committee of the Whole, whatever will be agreed upon by the majority members of the Senate. That is the proper forum where he, along with other resource persons to be invited, can shed light on the issues contained in Senate Resolution 362.
It is our hope that at the end of the day, the public will be enlightened after witnessing for themselves the open discussion of the issues at hand.
The issues raised by the senators against Secretary Duque as stated in Senate Resolution 362 have commonalities as they are glaring and have bearing on the country surviving COVID-19.
We all agreed not to recommend any replacement. In case Sec. Duque quits, it is all up to the President being the appointing authority. We are simply for a competent Secretary of Health. Take note: not more competent, but simply a competent one at the helm.
Having said that, the resolution does not involve the President. It is virtually an appeal – demand, if you will, to Sec. Duque to resign and the reasons are stated in the resolution. It is his call.
The resolution calls for the “immediate resignation of Sec. Duque for his failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency in the performance of his mandate as DOH Secretary, resulting in poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency and misguided and flip-flopping policies and measures in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic that endangered and continues to endanger the lives of our health care professionals, other frontliners, and the Filipino people.”
For one, through the private sector’s initiative in coordination with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases and other government agencies, massive rapid testing will start tomorrow, April 14, if it is not being done already.
Secondly, contact tracing, hopefully, will now be more efficient with the latest guideline issued by IATF for mandatory disclosure of COVID-19 infected persons for more efficient self-quarantine.
Thirdly, after a long and unnecessary delay, the FDA approved the use of test kits – including at least 10 rapid antibody test kits and 23 PCR-based test kits as of April 8. The delay was amid the willingness of private donors to spend big money to help accelerate mass testing through the use of rapid antibody test kits, and even after we asked the FDA about the usefulness of such rapid test kits as early as our March 24 caucus prior to our 18-hour plenary debates to pass Republic Act 11469 (Bayanihan to Heal As One Act) on the same day, with some Cabinet members in attendance.
What I can’t understand for the life of me is why the DOH keeps issuing circulars that seem to circumvent Sec 4(j) of the Bayanihan Act that provides for some leeway for donated test kits that otherwise have already been in use in other jurisdictions, by mandating the turnover of all donations to DOH but would not allow its use. This is compounded by a requirement for accreditation that includes, among others, an application by the manufacturer or distributor of such health products. Since these are donations and therefore not for business purposes, how in the world will these donors look for local distributors, or look for the manufacturer to file for an application? Sec 4(j) specifically states that all donated health products need only a certification from the regulatory agency/ies of the country that allows the use of such health products for FDA to approve the same.
On the other hand, there is no saying that Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. is not doing a good job as chief implementer of the government’s national response against COVID-19, by playing catch-up for the inadequacies of some people.
In an interview on DZBB/GMA News TV, Sen. Lacson stressed at least P200B in assistance to poor families affected by the COVID19-triggered quarantines should be distributed soonest, with scrutiny from the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee.
When we say mass testing, we do not refer to all the 100-plus million Filipinos. It’s only the most vulnerable: those over 60 years old, which constitutes not even 10 percent of the entire population; those who are exposed; and those with symptoms. The rapid test kits can still be useful according to its specificity.
Thus, DOH Sec. Francisco Duque III may not be very responsive when he says mass testing is not possible because there are not enough testing kits. Besides, I asked doctors who are knowledgeable about antibodies and viruses and all the other technical terms in the medical field. Their opinions mostly differ from those of the Secretary of Health.
Testing of all symptomatics and those who are high-risk is ideal. This is where the rapid test kits come in. The rapid test kit will identify the positives early so that they can be isolated to prevent infection spread.
However, this is not to say rapid test kits as a business deal may be allowed. On the other hand, such kits donated from abroad – and even those purchased by local businessmen who will or have donated the same to local government units to help achieve mass testing – should be given some leeway, as long as authorities properly supervise or at least give enough information about their use and usefulness.
True, the test using the PCR is more accurate and reliable. But how many do we have? How many have the expertise to operate, assuming that we have enough PCR machines?
If the DOH does not change its way of handling the crisis, I hate to say, we may be overrun by COVID19 faster than we can imagine.
Our lockdown is obviously working, no doubt. We can see it ourselves even from the windows of our own houses. But it is not enough by itself to flatten the COVID-19 curve. South Korea has reported to have flattened the curve through mass testing, not lockdown.
What we lack is the ability of the Department of Health to be more flexible. Hundreds of thousands of rapid test kits for donation by some local businessmen and procured from South Korea and China – already in use in those jurisdictions, having been certified by their regulatory agencies – have already arrived at least over a week ago. Yet, a big volume is still being held by Customs. Why?
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration – an agency under the DOH – still refuses to issue even a provisional accreditation, which is needed so those test kits can be distributed for use particularly by those who have symptoms or those who have had direct contact with infected persons, even on a “do-it-yourself” basis, so they can immediately practice self-isolation should they test positive. In turn, this can prevent or at least minimize the spread of the virus.
That, instead of overly restrictive regulations imposed by our DOH, will certainly help obviate a possibly uncontrollable spread of the COVID-19.
As of last Monday, when we were deliberating on the just-signed Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, we tested only 1,500 Filipinos, more or less. With a population of 107 million, the worst is yet to come unless DOH and FDA act with urgency.
That is why I proposed an amendment – which is now Section 4 (j) of RA 11469, the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act. This aims to “ensure that donation, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed and that health products for donation duly certified by the regulatory agency or their accredited third party from countries with established regulation shall automatically be cleared: Provided, this shall not apply to health products which do not require a certification or clearance from (FDA).”
The Metro Manila “lockdown,” “community quarantine,” or whatever the authorities may call it, is one decisive action taken by the government that needs the support of our people, no matter the sacrifices or inconvenience it brings.
But then again, government must lose no time in coming up with practical but effective ways of implementing it to serve its real purpose for our country to survive this unprecedented crisis that we are facing.
For its part, the Department of Health’s Inter-Agency Task Force (DOH-IATF) should issue clear, simple and concise guidelines on dealing with COVID-19 to prevent confusion among the public, as so many doctors and medical experts have been expressing different opinions on it, particularly on its transmission.