Lawmakers: Heed plea of frontliners
Forty medical associations on Saturday called on President Duterte to place the National Capital Region on ECQ for two weeks, or from Aug. 1 to 15, as health workers are already exhausted due to the rising number of COVID-19 patients being admitted in hospitals.
The STAR/Michael Varcas, file
Lawmakers: Heed plea of frontliners
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators urged Malacañang yesterday to heed the plea of frontliners to temporarily reimpose the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or equivalent restrictions, so as not to overwhelm the country’s health system with surging coronavirus disease cases.

Forty medical associations on Saturday called on President Duterte to place the National Capital Region on ECQ for two weeks, or from Aug. 1 to 15, as health workers are already exhausted due to the rising number of COVID-19 patients being admitted in hospitals.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto urged Duterte to listen to the plea without filter.

“(The return to ECQ) is a doctor’s prescription with side effects. But if it will cure the patient and prevent medical personnel from falling ill, then there’s no choice but to follow it,” Recto said.

“It will be the government’s job to manage the side effects – specifically the tremendous whiplash on the livelihood of the people,” he said even as he described the ECQ as a “circuit breaker.”

The government must rush social safety nets if it decides to revert to ECQ or tighten restrictions, as “the people’s choice should not be narrowed down to either death by COVID or death by hunger.”

Recto expressed optimism the government would be able to find a balance between flattening the curve and reviving the economy.

“When the number of cases hits 100,000 today, it will sound an emergency alarm that can only be turned off by ringing the timeout bell,” he said.

Sen. Sonny Angara said the government should take the request of health workers very seriously.

“If the doctors and our medical system is overwhelmed, then the whole system and government strategy will surely be affected,” Angara said.

Sen. Richard Gordon also advised the government to consider the plight of medical frontliners in deciding on the imposition of quarantine levels.

However, he said the full ECQ may not be feasible – but a more targeted system that includes specific restrictions – as the government already started opening up the economy.

Gordon warned the country’s healthcare system is close to being overwhelmed, and most of the isolation facilities are also full which prevents medical personnel from taking the precautionary two-week breaks.

The senator reiterated the need for a master plan in fighting the pandemic and protecting medical frontliners.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan lamented the government could have managed the expected uptick in cases if it had long prepared and properly managed the situation, even as he attributed the surge in infections to a “failure of leadership.”

Pangilinan warned reviving the economy would be useless or futile if infections would spread.

“Where is our campaign against COVID-19 going?” he said in an interview with dzRH.

Gov’t officials, not health workers

Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar said it should be government officials – not health workers – who should work harder in cushioning the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the people.

Villar issued the clarification in the wake of statements she made in a radio interview on Saturday which downplayed the appeal of health workers to have a two-week “timeout.”

In the interview the senator said she does not see the need to bring Metro Manila back under the strictest ECQ and Filipinos will just “have to learn to live with COVID-19.”

She stressed that the statement was not aimed at medical frontliners.

“We have to work harder and better, but I am not referring in particular to the medical workers – our frontliners. We are referring to all of us and DOH (Department of Health) and PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.) in particular,” the senator said.

Villar said there is so much room for improvement in the government’s response to curb the transmission of the disease.

“I know very well the sacrifices of our health frontliners. They risk their lives in caring for our countrymen who contracted the disease,” she said.

‘Very insensitive’

Vice President Leni Robredo yesterday branded Villar’s remark as “very insensitive.”

“To those who made the comment that (medical workers) should just do their jobs better, number one it’s very insensitive. Number two, they don’t know the sacrifices of our health workers,” Robredo said in her weekly program over dzXL, apparently referring to the senator.

Robredo said her office has been working with the private sector to lessen the hardships of health workers.

“When public transportation was suspended there were health workers who walked for hours to go to their work. They left their families, loved ones for months to serve in hospitals. A number of our health workers have died, have been infected. Many receive meager salaries but continue to do their jobs,” she said.

“This has been the situation since March, and until now we’re in a similar situation. The sacrifice is the same, the threat to catch the virus is higher now, and yet you’re not appreciated, who would not lose his interest?” she said.

Robredo, however, said placing Metro Manila under ECQ again would not address the crisis alone.

“The return to ECQ is not enough. It would only be enough if we will use the time under ECQ to fix the process,” she said.

The Vice President maintained that government data shows that something is wrong with the government’s handling of the pandemic.

“I’ll say this again, the data, which comes from the government itself, are our basis for saying that what we’re doing now doesn’t work,” Robredo said.

For instance, she said the government was only able to achieve its target of 30,000 COVID-19 tests per day in July after months in lockdown.

“The response is really slow,” Robredo said.

She also said only four of the 600 local government units surveyed have effective contact tracing capability.

“I saw the statement of (Baguio City) Mayor Benjie Magalong yesterday that he is disappointed as contact tracing czar. It appears that in contact tracing, we are only able to identify an average of eight close contacts per infected person, lower than the standard 37,” she said.

Resign out of ‘delicadeza’

Militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) yesterday urged Health Secretary Francisco Duque to observe “delicadeza” and resign.

“We are nearing the 100,000-mark in terms of COVID-19 cases. The Department of Health cannot conceal the fact that the curve is steadily rising with increasing COVID-19 infections by doctoring figures,” the group said in a statement yesterday.

“Do not prolong the agony of medical frontliners. If Sec. Duque still has an iota of delicadeza, he should pack up and resign from his post as health secretary,” KMP said.

Admin, opposition agree on appeal

Crossing party-lines, both administration and opposition lawmakers yesterday supported the call of health professionals for government to re-impose a lockdown in Metro Manila to prevent more COVID-19 infections.

“The request of our frontliners is reasonable and can be effected. If our frontliners are asking us to pause and stop, we should listen,” Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, chairman of the House of Representatives’ public accounts committee, said.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, also supported the doctors’ call for a “timeout,” as he issued a “preliminary analysis” of the situation, where University of the Phillipines and University of Santo Tomas research shows 150,000 cases and 3,000 deaths by the end of the month.

Administration Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo of Quezon City likewise expressed support, and said the inter-agency task force (IATF) should heed the medical workers’ plea.

“Let us listen to them. They are the ones on the frontline. Indeed, after five months of fighting this pandemic, they are exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally,” the neophyte lawmaker said.

Rep. Bernadette Herrera of party-list Bagong Henerasyon, for her part, suggested to the IATF to let the mayors themselves impose the ECQ for clusters in their own barangays.

“This could be a viable alternative to a Metro Manila-wide ECQ or modified ECQ. With this approach, we spare the recently opened small business from ECQ or MECQ shutdown, as well as residential areas with low or zero COVID-19 cases,” she said.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, an independent opposition legislator, advised that government must prioritize “health first before business in critical areas.” “Lives lost are forfeited forever but businesses lost can be redeemed,” he said.

Another independent lawmaker, Rep. Lito Atienza of party-list Buhay, said the “government should concentrate on saving lives and quelling the coronavirus pandemic now and allow the next administration to worry about the proposal to bring back the death penalty.” – Helen Flores, Ding Cervantes,Delon Porcalla

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