Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the President was doing his best and that while the government’s response to coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 was not perfect, the health crisis remains under control.
STAR/Geremy Pintolo, file
Palace on WHO report: Duterte doing his best
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 30, 2020 - 12:00am

We are not perfect – Roque

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has urged critics to stop politicking while the country is grappling with the pandemic, Malacañang said yesterday, as it disputed a World Health Organization (WHO) report that the Philippines has the fastest increase in infections in the Western Pacific.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the President was doing his best and that while the government’s response to coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 was not perfect, the health crisis remains under control.

“Did the government make the right move? Our answer is yes. We are not perfect. Perhaps we could have done better. But we are already here and one thing I can assure you, the President did the very best that he can and we are in control of the situation,” he said at a press briefing.

“You know, the President only has one message – stop politics during COVID-19. But criticisms continue to be hurled at us and we have to respond to them. They said there are shortcomings. We asked them what they are... but they did not give any,” he added.

Roque said quarantine measures, including lockdowns, have spared the country from having to deal with 3.6 million COVID-19 cases. “We imposed an enhanced community quarantine and the growth of the cases slowed and we are capable of treating those who are sick.”

The government also disputed WHO data stating that the Philippines has the fastest increase in COVID-19 cases in the Western Pacific.

“We beg to disagree. If you look at the increase in the number of cases, it should be in relation to your population. Why compare it to Singapore, which has (a population of) five million? It’s just as big as one city,” Roque said.

He claimed the Philippines would only be sixth behind India (549,197 cases), Pakistan (202,955 cases), Bangladesh (137,787), Indonesia (54,010) and Singapore (43,459) if one divides the cases with the population.

“It is clear that data do not lie. We are not the country with the fastest increase in the number of cases in the Western Pacific region. We will let the data respond to the report of WHO,” he stressed.

When asked why he included India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in his statement even if they are not in Western Pacific, Roque replied: “Well, I’m not going to go nitpicking on this but as far as I know, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are still Asian countries. If you look at the WHO, I think—we checked this and in the data of the WHO, they are classified as Western Pacific countries.”

A check with the WHO Regional Office website showed that the three countries were not listed among Western Pacific countries.

According to WHO data, the Philippines had 8,143 new cases from June 16 to June 27, the highest among 22 countries in Western Pacific. It was followed by Singapore with 2,351 new cases, and China with 302 in the same period.

The Department of Health (DOH) has said that the Philippines’ socioeconomic context, living conditions and health system capacity are different from those of Singapore.

“Please take that into account when we do our analysis. Let us not cherry pick the countries we want to compare ourselves to,” the DOH said in a statement last Sunday.

Roque admitted that the government cannot completely slow down the spread of the virus without a vaccine but that the government is ensuring that it has enough capacity to provide medical care to those who will get sick.

“I’d like to point out that the figures that we reported as of today of around 35,000 is lower than the UP (University of the Philippines) prediction of 40,000 and have urged our countrymen to prove the UP data wrong and we did because they predicted (40,000), we have 35 (thousand),” he said.

Minguita Padilla, medical team chief of Project Antibody Rapid Test Kits (ARK), agreed that the quarantine measures imposed by the government are working. She said 91 to 92 percent of the persons tested by their project tested negative for the virus.

“Now, it’s about a very small percentage that is positive – about six percent. It jibes with PCR tests of the DOH... Most of them are really mostly negative and asymptomatic. It’s a good sign that whatever we did has worked. It’s not that high even in very crowded municipalities and districts of Metro Manila,” Padilla said.

Duterte is expected to announce his decision on the classification of areas under community quarantine today.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also defended the government, saying the cases were increasing because of the ramped-up testing efforts.

“Yes, as we increased our testing capacities, actually we expected that more positive will turn out but if we will look at the positivity rate, we are about five to six percent… our target is to go to around three percent and probably one percent,” Año said in an interview aired over ANC.

He claimed that if the Philippines did not implement lockdowns and strict quarantine measures, research projections positing an infection of at least 3 million people and 200,000 deaths could have materialized.

“So you see, we are doing good compared to other countries like the United States, Brazil. Somehow we are able to contain the spread of the virus in the whole country,” Año added.

Nationwide, there are over 35,000 COVID-19 cases of which 1,244 have died and 9,686 have recovered.

Shape up

In the light of the WHO data, senators urged the DOH to shape up and work faster in containing the spread of COVID-19.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III pointed to the “delay in actions and responses” of the DOH to respond to the pandemic that led to the surge in new cases.

“That includes contact tracing and aggressive research on medications,” Sotto said.

Sen. Christopher Go, who chairs the committee on health, reiterated his call for the DOH to improve its “test, trace and treat strategy.”

“While the cases of COVID-19 continue to go up, the quarantine, contact tracing, and treatment capabilities must also keep up,” Go said, adding that the government must find ways to fund the programs aimed at containing COVID-19, saving jobs, and helping the economy recover.

Sen. Sonny Angara reminded concerned agencies and the general public to be extra vigilant and careful “since we are emerging from the lockdown and relaxing quarantine protocols.”

“There are greater risks for infection. Again the methods to reduce these risks are well established- distancing, wearing masks, testing and contact tracing. Undoubtedly there is still room for improvement,” Angara said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson also lamented the WHO’s assessment, which was somewhat expected.

“What is there to expect? The DOH being the government’s lead agency has been mishandling the pandemic, even misleading us to believe that everything has been under control from the start,” Lacson said.

“But then, the WHO has likewise lost much credibility in its overall handling of the coronavirus particularly in its flip flopping medical bulletins and advisories,” he said.

He said the DOH’s shortcomings were worsened by President Duterte’s “almost blanket trust and confidence on (Health) Secretary (Francisco) Duque III.”

Sen. Imee Marcos is pushing for the creation of a more compact group for a more focused government direction on how to contain the spread of COVID-19 while Sen. Leila de Lima called for an investigation on the DOH failure on contact tracing. Neil Jayson Servallos, Paolo Romero, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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