COVID frontline doctors as government critics

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 21, 2021 - 12:00am

At the current rate of how many Filipinos so far were being vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it would take at least 12 years to attain the so-called “herd immunity” in our country. Dr. Esperanza Cabral projected this based on the anti-COVID vaccination pace as implemented by the government. Cabral echoed the calls for the government to act with “more sense of urgency and transparency” and speed up anti-COVID vaccination as one of the co-convenors of the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare.

Along with Dr. Minguita Padilla as her co-convenor of Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare, Dr. Cabral called out the attention in particular of Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III. This is because Duque is the co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the policy-making body that recommends the government’s anti-COVID responses.

The two women doctors spoke in behalf of their advocacy group in our Zoom Webinar of Kapihan sa Manila Bay last week. It was two days after President Rodrigo Duterte downgraded the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that was prompted by the resurgence of COVID-19 in the national capital region (NCR) and nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal. Collectively called as the NCR +, the IATF recommended to President Duterte to relax the hard lockdown to one-step lower level of modified ECQ until the end of this month.

“The surge did not come overnight. There are tell tale signs. And according to researches, the COVID cases are still going up and it’s going to be bad,” Cabral warned.

Cabral sought the government’s adoption of “more forward-looking” measures amid the prospects that the COVID-19 pandemic will be a lingering public health crisis.

“They (IATF) actually do the correct things, but it’s just that not at the right time and not on scale…They know what they need to attend to, and to acquire faster the vaccination so we can get out soon from this pandemic,” Cabral urged.

She noted with dismay the Philippines to date received almost 1.5 million doses of Coronavax from Sinovac donated by China and AstraZeneca donated by the World Health Organization (WHO) COVAX facility. Also delivered in our country, weeks apart, were the additional one million doses of Coronavax purchased by DOH from Sinovac.

As of April 17, the National Vaccination Operations Center reported 1,264,811 Filipinos have gotten their first dose of anti-COVID jabs. Of the total inoculated, 960,191 were frontline health workers and 191,982 of them have already completed their second dose as vaccination priority group. The rest of the total vaccinees were senior citizens and individuals with comorbidity.

Ideally, Cabral cited, the rate should be 200,000 to 300,000 doses at least per day of inoculation. “If we cannot do that, we still cannot have a merry Christmas this year,” Cabral quipped. With more than 80 % of the global supply of anti-COVID vaccines cornered by the richest countries, Cabral fears the worse scenario of “mass graves” in the Philippines.

Citing the start of the vaccination roll out in our country six weeks ago, Cabral multiplied this to 365 days. “So I calculated, if that’s the rate of vaccination, it would take us 12 years (to achieve ‘herd immunity’) in the Philippines,” Cabral deplored.

Obviously, there are not enough anti-COVID vaccines available yet for us Filipinos.

Cabral is no stranger to a public health crisis but not like containing a contagion we’re having right now. Although she once served as DOH Secretary, she is an accomplished cardiologist and clinical pharmacologist. Cabral took over from Duque at the helm of the DOH during the last six months of the administration of ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from Jan. to June, 2010. But Cabral served longest the Arroyo administration as the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development
(DSWD). So actually, she and Duque had worked together in the Arroyo Cabinet.

Mrs.Arroyo first appointed Duque as president and chief executive officer of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) in June, 2001. Four years later, Duque became Mrs.Arroyo’s Health Secretary. A few months before she ended her term, Mrs. Arroyo rewarded Duque with a constitutionally fixed term of six years in office as chairman of the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

When President Duterte took office at Malacanang, he first appointed Duque as chairman of the Government Service Insurance System in June, 2016. Barely a year as GSIS chairman, the President then appointed Duque to head anew the DOH in Nov.2017.

Cabral’s first stint in the Arroyo Cabinet was when she replaced then secretary Corazon Soliman, one of the so-called “Hyatt-10.”The term “Hyatt 10” refers to a group of seven secretaries of the Cabinet and heads of government agencies who resigned their posts on July 8, 2005 as a result of the infamous “Hello, Garci” scandal. This led to another round of coup rumors to oust then president Arroyo.

Speaking of coup rumors, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen.Cirilito Sobejana came out with strong denials and denunciations of a purported attempt to oust President Duterte. Supposedly, groups of retired military generals were ready to lead a coup attempt against their former Commander-in-chief. They were reportedly disgruntled over the administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the perceived limp-wristed policy on China’s continuing illegal presence at the disputed West Philippine Sea.

But the irony of this report is it allegedly came out through viber chat group among the un-named coup plotters. The unknown coup pals in the viber chat group could not be so dumb to plan their ouster plot through this means.

Despite critics' views on the government’s anti-COVID actions, our frontliner doctors save lives, not cause troubles while these coup pals stir dissent instead of helping to fight the pandemic.

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