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Opinion

COVID-19 is beyond politics

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Even if the official campaign period is already winding down this week, veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal made a valid and still, a very timely call. Macalintal reminded the public against unscrupulous people who deliberately spread false information. This after Macalintal caught sight of an old video file that went viral in a very popular social media platform Tiktok.

As officer of the court, the veteran lawyer took it upon himself to ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to use its vast police powers for the local affiliates in the Philippines of Tiktok to take down the video post spreading an obvious attempt to mislead the Filipino voters. The video claims that voters on election day are required to wear face shields, must be fully vaccinated, and for those unvaccinated are required to bring their latest RT-PCR test with negative results.

Macalintal noted “this video is apparently not updated” because the claimed requirements are not spelled out in any existing Comelec resolutions. He urged the poll body to throw the book against all those responsible for such dis-information. Incidentally, Tiktok has been notably the favorite platform of the many smear campaign and black propaganda stuff dished out against certain candidates.

Under Section 15(z) (11) of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), Macalintal warned, an election offense is committed by “any person who, for the purpose of causing confusion among the voters, propagates false, and alarming reports or information regarding any matter relating to….the general conduct of the election,” carries a penalty of one to six years imprisonment, perpetual disqualification from holding public office, and deprivation of right of suffrage under Section 264 of the OEC.”

The seven-man Comelec previously declared these requirements do not apply for all areas that have already been placed under Alert Level-1 by the Department of Health (DOH). The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEiD) designated the DOH as the agency in charge of issuing Alert Level of restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The IATF calibrates twice a month the Alert Levels depending on the COVID-19 cases per area basis. Since March year, the entire national capital region and many other parts of the country have been under Alert Level 1. And again last week, the IATF extended anew the Alert Level-1 from May 1 until 15 at the NCR and 94 other provinces and cities in the Philippines. Yesterday, the IATF lowered five areas still under Alert Level 2, or stricter anti-COVID protocols and are now also on Alert Level-1 from today until May 15 also.

However, the IATF still imposes area-limited or “granular lockdowns” in places where there are high cases of COVID-19 infection.

As of this writing, the Comelec and the DOH though have yet to agree on common grounds to ensure the holding of Vote S.A.F.E. Pilipinas, or Safe, Accurate, Free and Fair Elections. This is the official campaign banner of the Comelec for the 2022 national and local elections.

The IATF, co-chaired by DOH Secretary Francisco Duque lll has designated Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire to work out on how the government’s anti-COVID vaccination campaign could possibly be integrated as official part of activities on election day itself.

Offhand, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia frowned upon the proposal to use the polling areas as a venue for the government’s anti-COVID vaccination program. Garcia, however, agreed to carefully study this because it might be misunderstood that vaccination is needed before being allowed to vote. While he shared the concerns that election day might become super spreader event, Garcia stressed the Comelec cannot impose prohibitions that are not mandated under the OEC nor in any other existing laws of the land.

The Comelec has set aside test isolation polling places (IPP) on election day solely for a voter or voters who might manifest COVID-19 symptoms or fever-level temperature. Manned by health personnel in protective suits, they will assist the voter with suspected COVID-19 infection so that he or she could still vote.

Duque has been exhorting COVID-19 patients and those with symptoms of the respiratory disease just to stay home on election day. Duque argues it is against the government’s quarantine and isolation policies to allow COVID-stricken individuals to go elsewhere like polling centers as they pose risks to public health and safety.

He likewise invoked that any violation of the IATF Guidelines may be prosecuted under the appropriate local ordinance or as non-cooperation of the person or entities punishable under Section 9 paragraphs (d) or (e), as the case may be, of Republic Act No. 11332, otherwise known as the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.

For more than two years now, the entire Philippines remains under a state of public health emergency since the COVID-19 pandemic breached our shores. President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation 1218 that extended up to Sept.12,2022 the period of state of calamity throughout the country due to COVID-19 pandemic “unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.”

In the DOH vaccination dashboard of COVID-19 jabs, 67.9 million individuals all over the country were fully vaccinated already. This represents the 75.45 percent of the 90 million individuals targeted for the inoculation has already been reached.

Based from the DOH weekly bulletin for COVID-19, there was five percent decline in the cases reported from April 18 to 24. An average of 200 new daily cases of COVID-19 were documented by the DOH last week. As of May 1, the DOH reported there were 723 severe and critical cases admitted to hospitals due to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is beyond politics. With just five days to go before we hold the elections, it would do well for both the DOH and the Comelec to get their acts together.

IATF

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