Palace shuns new OCTA report: We're not completely reliant on Red Cross
This undated file photo shows presidential spokesperson Harry Roque holding a regular press briefing.
The STAR/Joven Cagande
Palace shuns new OCTA report: We're not completely reliant on Red Cross
Christian Deiparine ( - October 27, 2020 - 3:50pm

MANILA, Philippines — Government on Tuesday rejected anew a report by an independent group of experts studying the coronavirus crisis in the country, this time detailing how isolation and contact tracing efforts have been crippled due to a halt in tests run by the Philippine Red Cross.

The OCTA Research Group in its latest observation said the multi-million debt of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to Red Cross should immediately be resolved, as the group is responsible for about 30% of the country's total screening capacity.

Experts from the University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas also warned that the new COVID-19 infections being reported may not be showing the real situation of the coronavirus crisis without results from Red Cross' screenings. 

But at a Palace briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied that government is leaning too much on the humanitarian organization that has conducted over a million tests before it stopped. 

"We simply disagree because it is not only Red Cross that is doing the tests," he said in mixed English and Filipino. "We have 115 licensed RT-PCR and 36 GeneXpert laboratories, so we're not completely relying on their facilities."

Roque added that they are in talks with eight private-run labs as alternatives if Red Cross would not decide to return to test individuals for the COVID-19. 

PhilHealth had vowed to settle its P930 million overdue amounts to Red Cross on Monday, but Sen. Richard Gordon, the organization's chairman, said the agency did not follow through with their commitment. 

Many sectors have been affected by Red Cross' decision as a result of PhilHealth's failings to settle its obligations, including medical workers and returning OFWs as well as those in mega swabbing facilities.

"Without the RT-PCR testing facilities provided by the PRC, our public health authorities and pandemic management teams are made blind because of less accurate information," OCTA said. "Accurate testing information and increased testing capacity are crucial to managing the pandemic."

This is not the first time that government refused to take into account OCTA's insights. Earlier this month, Roque told the group that they should refrain from publicizing their recommendations to prevent preempting President Rodrigo Duterte from making decisions on the ongoing health crisis.

Roque's remarks at that time came after the experts said particular towns should be reverted back to stricter quarantine status after an increase it its daily attack rate. 

In the same briefing, the president's spokesman also disagreed with OCTA's warning that increasing capacity in public transport could result in more COVID-19 cases, as he said the move is backed by their own experts. 

"'Yung mga dalubhasa na nag-rekomenda na bawasan ang social distancing puro mga doctor ito, mga magagaling," Roque said. "Itong mga doctor na ito mga respetado. Hindi ko alam kung sino 'yung doctor ng OCTA."

(The experts that recommended reducing social distancing are good doctors. They are also respected. As for the OCTA group, I do not know who their doctor is.) 

OCTA had since vowed that they will continue to release their findings out in the open, adding that what they are doing is a public service that is not being paid by government. 

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