Throw the book vs the crooks
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

It is tragic the cases of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fatalities in the Philippines have already breached the 7,000-mark on Monday. The Department of Health (DOH) reported last Monday 62 additional COVID-19 related deaths that brought the total to 7,039 while confirmed cases stood at 371,630 while more than 80% are recovered ones.

Of the country’s first three cases of COVID-19 infection, it would be recalled, one of them died and became our country’s first fatality. From that time on, the number of local transmissions of COVID-19 infection in the Philippines grew exponentially.

The DOH has since then has changed several times the format of their public reporting on COVID-19 cases in our country. In their latest reporting, the DOH came up with yet another revision of their daily COVID-19 cases bulletin supposedly “to make it simple, compact, and easy to understand.” DOH undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire officially presented this in her daily virtual presser last Monday. Vergeire described it as “data and science-backed information” as integral part of the global response against COVID-19.

Vergeire noted the “iterations” in the DOH reporting of case bulletins aim to maintain transparency, to keep communications messages to priority relevant information, and constant reminders to the public on how to avoid and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The bulletin also now comes in combined Filipino or Tagalog and English. Through these daily DOH bulletins, she stressed, the public will be more informed and empowered as they conduct their daily affairs, instead of succumbing to fear, panic, and anxiety during the health crisis.

One of the revisions include enhanced content emphasizing the most sought information, such as reporting in percentages to create a more convenient way of informing the public on the numbers of cases and recoveries. Another enhancement is making data visualization more digestible and user-friendly, targeting the larger portion of the public who are mostly smartphone users.

Other than these DOH daily bulletins, Vergeire provides the most credible face and calming voice from among the government communicators who deliver news and information about our COVID-19 experience in this on-going pandemic.

Amid the continuing threats of this public health emergency in our country, the state-run Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) Corp. and the Philippine Red Cross are still in stalemate up to now over the P1.1 billion unpaid bills on COVID-19 testing services of the latter. Yet, President Rodrigo Duterte already vowed last week to pay Red Cross but which the PhilHealth has yet to comply with.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) last Friday already rendered its legal opinion on the legal issues raised by PhilHealth president and chief executive officer (CEO) Dante Gierran. But apparently, Gierran remains worried on the personal repercussions of these legal issues he inherited from his immediate PhilHealth predecessor who entered into this COVID-19 testing services agreement with the Red Cross president and CEO, Sen.Richard “Dick” Gordon.

Through presidential spokesman Harry Roque, the legal opinion handed down by DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra was made public last Monday in a virtual press briefing at Malacanang. This was practically a go-signal coming no less from the two alter egos of President Duterte for Gierran to go ahead with the payment of its outstanding debts to the Red Cross.

Roque reiterated yesterday the public commitment of President Duterte to pay the entire P1.1 billion billing of Red Cross even at 50% initially of the amount. The presidential spokesman was himself is clueless what’s keeping Gierran or the PhilHealth from complying with the President’s directive to pay its dues to the Red Cross.

In a briefly worded press statement issued late Friday night, the PhilHealth promised to pay Red Cross on Monday Oct.26. But as of this writing yesterday, no such payment, not even 50% or half of the owed amount was remitted to the Red Cross. As the PhilHealth still dilly-dallies on paying its obligations to Red Cross, Gordon fumed in righteous indignation. Invoking though his parliamentary immunity, Gordon accused PhilHealth as “liars, cheats, perfidious.”

The OCTA Research Group – composed of professors from the University of the Philippines, the University of Santo Tomas, and Providence College in the United States – noted with concern the immediate consequence of the PhilHealth-Red Cross stalemate. They warned this “crippled” the contact-tracing efforts of both the national and local government to track down potential spreaders of COVID-19 infection in our country.

In their report, the OCTA cited the Red Cross has contributed about 30% of the total COVID-19 testing capacity for the entire country and 38% of that served Metro Manila which remains the epicenter of the contagion. The Red Cross was responsible for some 1.1 million COVID-19 tests, or about a quarter of the country’s total output.

Roque though pooh-poohed again the alarm bells raised by the OCTA group, citing the government has 151 other accredited testing laboratories in both government and private run centers while Red Cross suspended its testing services.

But still, one dead is one death too many, so to speak.

From Davao City where he is currently staying at his family residence, it was rather unusual that President Duterte did not touch on the still raging PhilHealth-Red Cross row in his more than 30-minute public address to the people. It was obviously taped last Monday night after the President himself quipped at the end of his address it was 12 midnight already.

Aired yesterday in government-owned PTV-4, the President merely warned resigned top executives implicated in various anomalies at the PhilHealth they will still face the full force of the anti-corruption law if found guilty.

Throw the book against the crooks. Add multiple homicide, if not multiple murder, on top of estafa charges against these PhilHealth graft syndicate.

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