DILG to learn from past lessons in contact tracing

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
DILG to learn from past lessons in contact tracing
Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. speaks during a press conference at the Department of the Interior and Local Government main office in Quezon City yesterday.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Newly designated Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos yesterday vowed to “learn from the lessons of the past” in terms of contact tracing efforts after the Commission on Audit flagged the department for underutilizing its COVID-19 response funds.

At a press conference at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) headquarters in Quezon City, Abalos promised to improve the national government’s StaySafe application.

Although the national government ordered the contact tracing application as mandatory, its impact was considered insignificant, according to former health secretary Francisco Duque III during a Senate hearing last year.

“I saw the importance of contact tracers, and I would like to point out that we have an application about this,” Abalos said.

The DILG last year hired 15,000 contact tracers out of the total 130,178 contact tracers nationwide.

The department has a P250-million budget for contact tracers this year, enough to hire only 1,000 contact tracers, according to then DILG undersecretary Epimaco Densing in an interview with One News’ “The Chiefs” in January.

“We should learn from the lessons of the past,” Abalos said, noting that the contact tracing application would help the government save resources.

Digital contact tracing under the StaySafe application is considered “optional for all the agencies and establishments” under the amended guidelines of Alert Level 1.

COVID response

On the other hand, the DILG explained the unobligated amount of P577.053 million out of the department’s P4.038-billion allotment for COVID-19 response.

During the press conference, DILG Assistant Secretary Ester Aldana said the department saved funds because of local government unit augmentation of contact tracers and their transportation services as well as lower cost of face masks and alcohol compared to 2020.

Of the unobligated amount, P140 million intended for the hiring of contact tracers remains valid for obligation until the end of the year, Aldana said.

The remaining P436 million has to be reverted to the treasury because it is valid for obligation and disbursement only until June 30, 2021 under the Bayanihan Act 2, she added.



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