'We're calling for help, not a revolution,' health workers tell Duterte

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'We're calling for help, not a revolution,' health workers tell Duterte
Health workers tend to patients inside the COVID-19 emergency response medical tents outside the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila in this undated file photo.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines — Medical workers on the frontlines of the country’s battle against coronavirus are calling for help, not calling for a revolution against the government, health workers groups said Monday.

Nurses and physicians issued this response after President Rodrigo Duterte scolded medical societies who called for stricter community quarantine classification and warned them against hinting about mounting a “revolution.”

“It was not a call for revolution. Excuse me, Mr. President Duterte. We were asking for your help because you might not be seeing or nobody is reporting to you the real state of health workers,” Jaymee De Guzman, a staff nurse at San Lazaro Hospital, said in a mix of English and Filipino at a forum organized by Filipino Nurses United (FNU).

"We are not calling for a revolution. We need your help it is now us who are getting sick," she added.

FNU president Maristela Abenojar said the distress calls of swamped and exhausted health care workers are not selfish pleas.

"We are not calling for a revolution like you are saying. We are making an appeal because we want to be more effective in serving our patients. How can we serve the patients if we ourselves get sick? If we ourselves die?” Abenojar said.

Some 5,008 health workers—mostly nurses and physicians—in the country have contracted COVID-19.

Medical societies over the weekend called for tighter movement restrictions to recalibrate against the health crisis, which Duterte heeded when he placed Metro Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan under modified enhanced community quarantine for two weeks.

They also proposed that the lockdown be used to address “hospital workforce efficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection and social amelioration.”

RELATED: Fewer medical workers getting COVID-19 but fear, lack of testing and PPEs remain

Duterte’s comments

In an address aired late Sunday, the chief executive acknowledged workers’ concerns, adding he knows they are “bone tired.”

But the move of medical associations to hold press conferences and issue press statements listing down suggestions to improve the government’s response did not sit well with Duterte.

“Next time, you can just ask for an audience. Pero huwag ho kayo mag-sigaw sigaw ng revolution niyo,” the president said.

“Is that what you want? We can always end our existence in this manner. Hindi naman kayo natatakot siguro. Alam namim ‘yun na hindi kami matakot sa ganun. But to send a message na without giving government a chance,” he added.

In a statement Monday, the Philippine College of Physicians apologized to Duterte for the way their message was taken negatively.

“If you closely review the virtual conference on August 1, there was never a call for a revolt nor was there any threat of leaving patients on their own since our oath instructs us to 'first do no harm' to anyone who needs our help,” Dr. Mario Panaligan, PCP president, said.

‘MECQ won’t matter if gov’t response is the same’

The UP OCTA research group projected that COVID-19 cases in the country could reach 220,000 by end-August if Metro Manila remains under general community quarantine. But with the reimposition of MECQ, there could be 50,000 to 70,000 fewer cases.

But health workers groups stressed lockdowns will not matter if the government does not improve its response.

“Naniniwala kami na kahit mag-ECQ pa, MECQ or GCQ or ano mang lockdown, kung walang malinaw na komprehensibo, sistematiko at siyentipikong hakbang sa pamamagitan ng mass testing, contact tracing at isolation para ma-contain ang virus ay di pa rin masusugpo ang virus,” Robert Mendoza, Alliance of Health Workers president, said.

(We believe that even if we are under Enhanced Community Quarantine, Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, or General Community Quarantine, or any kind of lockdown, we will not beat the virus if there is no comprehensive, systematic and scientific steps taken through mass testing, contact tracing and isolation to contain the virus) 

“Ang kailangan di lang ‘yung pagbalik sa dati kasi alam natin na wala masyadong naitulong, tuloy pa rin ang pagtaas… Kaya di lang siya panawagan para sa ECQ or MECQ ngunit tignan yung mas malawak na kalayagayan ng sistemang pangkalusugan na kailangan ng tulong,” Dr. Josh San Pedro, co-convenor of Coalition for People’s Right to Health, said.

(We need more than a return to how things were done because we know that that did not do much. Cases continued to rise. That's why it's not just a matter of ECQ or MECQ, we have to take a broader look at a healthcare system that needs help)

The coronavirus pandemic has so far infected 106,330 people in the Philippines, with 2,104 deaths.

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