DENR chief to oversee Cebu COVID response
Roy Cimatu
STAR/File

DENR chief to oversee Cebu COVID response

Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Cebu City, now under strictest quarantine because of rising infections.

“To my brothers and sisters in Cebu, both in the city and the provinces, I will send over General Cimatu. General Cimatu is the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,” the President said in a recorded televised address Monday night after meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

“So I cannot wait for the transmission of communication asking for approval then – that is the bane of bureaucracy, to be honest,” he said.

Duterte stressed that Cimatu would have an “adjunct office” under the IATF.

He added Cimatu may choose to stay in Cebu City or fly back immediately after giving him a “picture of how grave the situation is.”

The President also said Cimatu – in the discharge of his latest duties – may seek help from the Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Task Force on COVID-19 and even the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“I am sure Cimatu… he cannot solve the problem on his own. He has just to make recommendations and let us know what we should be doing and that is very important. It’s part really of the intelligence work of any organization to know what is ahead and behind and on the side so that you’d know how to prepare and go and fight the enemy – COVID,” he said.

Cimatu, meanwhile, said he is happy to accept his new appointment. “I fully accept the challenge you gave for Cebu, Mr. President,” he said. “Going to Cebu, Sen. Bong (Go]) talked to me and I said this is really an honor for me because probably this is fate or destiny, Mr. President, to be doing things to save the lives of some people in Cebu at this time of pandemic,” Cimatu said.

“We changed successfully the image of Boracay to what it is now. And you ordered me to clean the waters of Manila Bay and implement the mandamus of the Supreme Court. And your order for me to go to Iraq, and to go to Libya, I complied Mr. President, this one going to Cebu and to Sen. Bong who talked to me, this is really an honor for me,” he said.

Reacting to Cimatu’s new appointment, fishers group Pamalakaya said the DENR chief cannot be expected to succeed in his new task as he could not even perform his original mandate.

“He is missing-in-action against the reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Now, he will get involved in an issue that does not concern his mandate,“ Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said.

“If Secretary Cimatu wants to make himself useful on this public health crisis, he should ensure that Manila Bay is protected from any reclamation project and its fisherfolk, who are considered as food security frontliners, should not be displaced from their communities and livelihood,” he said.

Hard headed

In his address, Duterte said he wanted to personally check developments in Cebu City if he would have his way, as its residents may have become complacent or stubborn. He announced plans to visit military camps instead.

“I will visit you when I get there. I will be frank with you again because you are hard headed,” Duterte said, addressing Cebu City residents.

But his spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said a Cebu City visit would have to wait – at least until the number of cases go down.

“The President cannot be prevented from going around so he will be visiting military camps. As for Cebu, not yet in the near future. The President hails from Cebu so the President is confident that the people from Cebu will understand if he becomes frank with them and be frank about his sentiments,” he said.

Roque said there may be no need to name a new DENR chief. “The President had given the secretary of DENR special missions a number of times and there was no need to name a successor in DENR,” he said. Cimatu’s latest assignment was “to beat COVID-19 in the city of Cebu.”

Asked whether Cimatu would also be the Visayas deputy implementer of the COVID-19 national policy, Roque replied: “Maybe it would be him. His mandate covers the city of Cebu and he has to come up with a solution, and there is a need to contain the spread of COVID-19, enforce quarantines and increase the capacity to take care of the severe and critical cases.”

In his address, Duterte said Cimatu can always turn to the military for help in enforcing rules, especially in case of lockdowns.

“If there is a lockdown, it has to be uniform and enforced by the police. If we lack personnel, then Secretary Cimatu has the liberty of calling upon the military guys to help,” the President said.

Cebu City reverted to the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last June 15 because of rising COVID-19 cases, which have threatened to undermine the capability of its healthcare facilities.

The President also defended members of his Cabinet, particularly Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, from accusations of incompetence and corruption in dealing with the health crisis.

“The money was not squandered either, I’m sure of that. I am very sure and I place my reputation on Secretary Duque that there was no corruption that happened there,” he said.

Duterte admitted he also detested lockdowns but that they had to be implemented to protect the people. “I hate it. I do not want even myself. Pero ang sabi ko sa inyo, kung kayo hindi makatiis at tinamaan kayo, sorry na lang (But I’m telling you, if you can’t wait and you get infected, then sorry),” he said.

Meanwhile, the DOH said that while the health system in Cebu City vis-à-vis the COVID-19 crisis is not yet at critical level, it is now in the “warning zone.”

“They are now on ECQ because their critical care utilization rate is in the warning zone and we have to make sure that the (health) system will not be overwhelmed,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a briefing.

Vergeire said as of June 21, only 13 percent of the 19,718 “dedicated” community isolation beds in the city were occupied.

However, 58 percent of the 1,533 hospital beds assigned to COVID-19 patients were already being used then.

On the other hand, 56 percent of the intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients were also occupied while 37 percent of mechanical ventilators were in use.

She added the critical level is 70 percent “and up,” but the IATF found it necessary to take action to keep the city’s health capacity stable.

Based on DOH Tracker for COVID-19, there were a total of 3,987 cases in Cebu City as of June 22.  Of the figure, 64 patients have died and 279 have recovered. Alexis Romero, Sheila Crisostomo, Christina Mendez, Rhodina Villanueva, Freeman

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