By Charissa Luci Atienza
The House Committee on Transportations urged on Wednesday, January 29 the Executive to come up with an official manual wherein the government response procedures to international health threats will be laid down.
Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, made the call during his panel’s motu proprio probe on the government’s response against Wuhan coronavirus.
“We want to know the government response in case of international health threat As a chair of the House Committee on Transportation, I find it proper what is the manual of the government when it comes to international health threats specifically coronavirus,” he said in his opening remarks.
“The reason why we are having this committee hearing, because moving forward, we will be appealing to the Executive to come up with a manual,” Sarmiento said.
He observed that the government does not have institutionalized response as far as addressing an international health threat is concerned.
“Wala tayong proseso. (We don’t have process) That is why officially we are asking the Executive, the DOH (Department of Health) , DOTr (Department of Transportation), what is the official manual of government or procedure relevant to international health alert? Who is responsible for the convening of the Interagency Committee, who chairs it? So that we would know that automatically, just in case something, there is also a set of procedure,” Sarmiento said.
Briefing the lawmakers on the Wuhan, coronavirus, DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Dr. Ferchito Avelino assured that the Philippines remains 2019 novel coronavirus-free.
He said the DOH, as chairman of the Interagency Committee, is on the top of the situation and has been meeting with its member agencies to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to prevent the entry of the coronavirus.
The Interagency Committee was created in 2014 and is co-chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Sitting as members of the Committee are the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) , Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
During the probe, Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel proposed that the Department of Agriculture (DA) be included in the interagency panel since the coronavirus can be transmitted from animals to human.
The Sarmiento panel required the concerned agencies to apprise the committee of the status updates, the actions taken, as well as their plans and protocols to address such public health emergency concern. The motion was made by Bukidnon Rep. Manuel Zubiri, vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.
“I move that relevant agencies such as DOTr, DOH, DFA, Bureau of Quarantine, BI (Bureau of Immigration) be required to submit reports to the committee regarding status updates, actions taken, and their plans and protocols when international public health emergency cases occur,” Zubiri said.
Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla assured the panel that they are closely monitoring the situation.
“We heard the US is studying the possibility of banning flights entirely to China. Historically, there has not been any President [who made] that kind of move,” he said.
“We are looking at developments, what are the actions being taken by other government not because we are going to follow them so that we can be guided on what is happening all over the world,” Arcilla said.
International and local airline companies, including the Etihad Airways and China Eastern Airlines, Air Asia, Philippine Airlines, and Cebu Pacific, assured the panel that they are closely coordinating with concerned government agencies and precautionary measures are being implemented to ensure the safety of their passengers and personnel.
Members of the panel hailed the various concerned agencies for the immediate steps they have taken to ensure that the Philippines remains nCOV-free.