AFP: No militarization of COVID-19 response
AFP chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay said the AFP has been actively involved in containing and addressing the coronavirus disease in many aspects, including increased soldier visibility.
AFP: No militarization of COVID-19 response
Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines ? Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay has assured the public that there is no militarization of the government’s COVID-19 response, only more visible troops to help in the pandemic efforts.

Gapay said the AFP has been actively involved in containing and addressing the coronavirus disease in many aspects, including increased soldier visibility.

“Our soldiers are very visible, but it doesn’t mean that this is militarization. You see, we are very organized, well-equipped, and well-experienced when it comes to addressing not only pandemics but other calamities and disasters that have hit our country in the past,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English in an interview over the weekend on CNN.

Some sectors have criticized the supposedly militaristic approach of the administration towards the public health emergency.

Gapay thumbed down this criticism, and said soldiers have been helping out at the forefront, including manning quarantine checkpoints, providing transport services, aid distribution, and even manning quarantine facilities.

He noted that it is part of the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response operations, or HADR, of the AFP that have always been part of its mandate. The AFP has also deployed doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to some quarters.

Gapay also welcomed President Duterte’s marching order for the AFP to be at the forefront of distribution once a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available.

Quarantine effect

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has expressed confidence that the number of COVID-19 cases will dwindle after the two-week modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) imposed over Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

“I believe this week we will feel its effects. Within this week those cases will slowly go down,” he told reporters in a mix of Filipino and English.

However, Año said that the MECQ is not the ultimate solution for the pandemic, but the government is doing all interventions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

He said the decision to lift the MECQ will still be up to President Duterte, even as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said he is not inclined towards another extension.

Año added that it is important to focus on the implementation of the MECQ for prevention of new cases, instead of focusing on the numbers.

The Philippines has recorded several consecutive days wherein the number of cases was up from at least 3,000.

He said the government is working to increase healthcare capacity, while also providing aggressing isolation intervention and contact tracing for positive cases.

Año added that they have deployed teams down to the barangay level to check the implementation of lockdown, and extract positive cases from home quarantine.

The DILG chief noted that the MECQ has helped in the easier implementation of contact tracing as people have been forced to stay home.

He urged the public to continue observing health protocols, such as physical distancing and wearing of masks, to stop the further transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Año clarified that face shields are only mandatory in public transport and some establishments.

Why silent?

This was the question posed by Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) Apostolic Administrator Broderick Pabillo in his homily during a mass aired over Church-run Radio Veritas yesterday morning, when he pointed out the government’s poor response to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

It has been reported that the Philippines now has the worst COVID-19 outbreak among Southeast Asian countries, dislodging Indonesia from the top spot.

As of Aug. 8, the Philippines reportedly has a total of 126,885 COVID-19 cases compared to Indonesia that has 121,226 cases.

Pabillo said, “Now we have witnessed this terrible thing that has happened to our country. We are now number one in Asia, in terms of total number of coronavirus cases. This is embarrassing and alarming. This means it would take us a longer time to reach economic recovery.”

He continued, “What is more saddening is that our government is not presenting any credible solutions to address the health and economic issues, and instead, pushed for the Senate and House of Representatives to pass the death penalty law… Let us not allow our senators and congressmen to make immoral laws, laws that kill.”

Pabillo went on to say, “There are still many people who have kept their silence and saying, ‘do not mind the government, for as long as we are surviving’. I just hope that we would be concerned because we love our country. In this time of need, what should surface is our love and care for our country.”

“Why do we avoid speaking out, avoid taking action? Are we afraid to be criticized by trolls or be accused of being a rebel?” he asked.

‘Two steps forward’

Meanwhile, Sen. Bong Go said the government is taking one step backward and two steps forward in its decision to revert Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal to MECQ in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and, at the same time, strengthen testing, tracing and treating capabilities of the health sector.

“The thrust here is to take one step backward, two steps forward. This is a part of the recalibration of strategies. Aside from providing a timeout (for frontliners), this is to intensify our testing capacity, tracing capability, and isolation capacity,” Go said.

Go, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography, expressed concern at the rising number of SARS-CoV-2 infections which he attributed to increased testing.

However, Go noted that the Philippines also took the top spot in terms of testing capacity in the region, having conducted 1,643,539 tests with an average of 28,938 tests per day within the last seven days, as of Aug. 4. By comparison, Indonesia conducted an estimated 908,000 tests with an average of 4,291 tests per day during the same period.

Go urged the public to continue adhering to the health and safety guidelines, such as face mask-wearing and social distancing, in order to prevent more infections and avoid possible extension of strict community quarantine measures.

According to health experts, properly wearing the right kind of mask decreases the risk of catching the virus by 85 percent. With social distancing and the use of face shields, this risk may be reduced by more than 90 percent.

Go commended the government for initiating the provision of free face masks to the poor, following his appeal for a stronger mask-wearing policy.

He noted that this initiative can create jobs for local makers of face masks and, at the same time, can save lives by distributing these free face masks to those who cannot afford to buy their own, particularly the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and other poor Filipinos.

When asked about quarantine measures and procedures for COVID-19 cases, the senator clarified that people with mild cases or are asymptomatic can be quarantined in their homes, provided they comply with the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19’s three new isolation requirements: they must have a separate bedroom for the patient’s exclusive use throughout the isolation period, a separate bathroom, and they must not be living with people at risk of severe illness from the virus.

According to the NTF, if COVID-19 patients cannot fulfill any of the requirements, they will be transferred to a government quarantine facility with the assistance of local health workers. – Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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