In an interview on ANC, Sen. Lacson answered questions on:
* second wave of COVID? [0:21]
* pattern of overpricing at DOH [3:05]
* day of reckoning vs those behind overpricing [7:46]
* need for extension of Bayanihan Act [12:17]
* fate of NCRPO chief Debold Sinas [13:21]
* ABS-CBN franchise issue [16:50]
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.
[Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson’s comments/recommendations on the President’s first weekly report to Congress as mandated by RA 11469, in his capacity as member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee]
1. As suggested by some sectors, there must be a National Strategic Planfrom which a National Action Plan, similar to an OPLAN is based.
2. There must be an overall plan by the Executive Department to mitigate the risks and minimizing or stopping the spread of COVID-19, including a detailed presentation of how funds will be disbursed and used by the implementing agencies. The same must be made public for transparency.
3. Correspondingly, in dealing with the threat of COVID-19, our HEALTH WORKERS – many of whom had already died and still more facing the prospect of being overwhelmed by the COVID-19 menace – should instead be made the country’s third and LAST LINE of defense. The FILIPINO PEOPLEthemselves should be our FIRST LINE of defense or front-liners; the SECOND LINE are our LAW ENFORCERS, LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND THE IMPLEMENTING AGENCIESwho will implement the action plan.
4. The Executive Department should provide Congress with a clearer picture of the COVID-19 situation and a progress update of implementation such as how many have been tested, number of displaced families and workers per region, and its impact on the country’s economy, including the steps undertaken to adapt to the developing situation, in its next report.
5. While the President’s initial report lists three priority programs: (1) providing emergency assistance to affected sectors; (2) securing facilities and resources for the health sector; and (3) performing fiscal and monetary actions for the economy – there does not appear to be an action plan for each of them. This must be spelled out in the next report to Congress.
6. Such lack of planning and coordinating threatens to defeat the purpose of the urgency of RA 11469– that is, to resolve and fight the virus by way of smooth and expeditious implementation.
7. The lack of foresight in this regard is obviously causing the delays as we see it actually happening now. The Executive Department knew beforehand what they wanted to ask from Congress. When we gave it to them in a record time of 18 hours, apparently they were not prepared to execute.
8. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has finally approved the use of rapid test kits, they should come up with clear guidelines on its use and usefulness, including its strengths and weaknesses in order to maximize a supervised mass testing by the local government units followed by an immediate distribution to LGUs, depending on demand and urgency.
9. The immediate implementation of the Bayanihan Act’s provision on the Special Risk Allowance granted to public health workers, on top of their regular hazard pay, and other benefits to both public and private health workers, especially to benefit those already infected or have died in the line of duty must be prioritized.
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.
But if public figures like Prince Charles, Boris Johnson, Tom Hanks, Christopher de Leon and several of our own legislators had voluntarily and publicly declared they are or were infected, maybe it is time for the “man on the street” – the ordinary Filipinos – to do the same in order to alert those who they had interacted with to take the necessary measures, so that the infection does not spread further.
If their identities are made public voluntarily, even through their barangay bulletins, homeowners’ associations or any social media platforms available, then people who they directly got in contact with can come forward to be tested and treated if needed.
As an elected Senator of the Republic, I appeal to our citizens to practice that selfless act of responsibility to society and do our part in hastening to flatten the curve by thwarting the spread of the virus even in our own little way.
COVID-19 may not be like the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), where there is social stigma attached to the afflicted because it is sexually transmitted in most cases. Nevertheless, it does not diminish the threat that COVID-19 poses not only to those vulnerable but those around them.
Republic Act 11469 gives the government the needed powers to address the COVID-19 emergency. Section 4 (j)of the law 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 the Food and Drug Administration.”
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).”