Members of the Lower House of Congress attend a special session with desks arranged to observe social distancing amongst members in Manila on March 23, 2020, to discuss a proposed emergency power to be given to President Rodrigo Duterte to tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
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'Enough': Coalition of patient orgs tells politicians who want VIP treatment
Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - March 26, 2020 - 11:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An alliance of patient organizations denounced Thursday government officials who used their positions to get tested for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and defied quarantine rules.

The Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations issued the statement after Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who tested positive for COVID-19, violated his home quarantine protocol and brought his pregnant wife to Makati Medical Center.

PAPO—a coalition advocating for universal access to health care and allied services for patients, including persons with disabilities—said Pimentel’s move endangered the lives of health workers and the public.

“This behavior seems to come from a feeling of privilege and entitlement. We feel this is a betrayal of his duty to protect the Filipino people, especially the patients and healthcare workers who are in most need of our attention in this crucial time in our history,” PAPO said.

MMC called out Wednesday the “irresponsible and reckless action of the senator,” saying he should have set an example for his constituents.

But the Department of Justice sait will not yet investigate Sen. Koko Pimentel III until a formal complaint is filed.

‘Enemy of the state’

The coalition of patient organizations also slammed the public officials who were tested despite most of them being asymptomatic and the lack of testing kits in the country.

“There seems to be another enemy of the state. Some of our government officials, their family and friends cornered the COVID-19 test kits with brazen boldness bypassing protocols, undermining key strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and depriving those who most need the life-saving tests,” PAPO said.

“To politicians who want to be treated like VIPs, we say, ENOUGH. Country first before egotistic political entitlement. Let’s follow the rules you set,” it added.

The Department of Health on Monday insisted that government officials were tested due to an older decision tool allowing those with exposure to confirmed cases or had traveled abroad.

“The DOH assures the public that there is no policy for VIP treatment and that all specimens are being processed on a first-in, first-out basis. With courtesy accorded to officials holding positions of national security and public health,” the agency said.

Under the revised protocol, only persons under investigations with mild symptoms who are elderly, with underlying conditions, immunocompromised and admitted patients under investigations in severe and critical condition are eligible for testing. 

Only 1,961 tests have been conducted since late January. Widespread testing is crucial in the fight of virus-hit countries like South Korea and Singapore as it allows authorities to isolate and treat infected people.

The new coronavirus has infected 636 people in the Philippines, 38 of whom died as of Wednesday afternoon. An additional 657 individuals are considered PUIs.

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