By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Amid the increasing number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and deaths, a senator is seeking to strengthen the country’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
Senator Imee Marcos recently filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 1407, which proposes to institutionalize and expand RITM operations to other regions of the country.
In her bill, she mentioned the 1981 executive order issued by her late father, former President Ferdinand Marcos, which created the RITM to plan and implement research programs for infectious and tropical diseases and their control.
The RITM was also tasked to provide quality tertiary care to patients suffering from such tropical diseases.
Marcos, however, said the 39-year-old order “hardly contemplates the slew of pandemics that have plagued the country in the past decade,” citing among others COVID-19.
She said the “absence” of a law directly addressing the global pandemic and other communicable diseases caused a “level of confusion” in government response strategies and information dissemination.
The former Ilocos Norte governor cited the memorandum issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) last February, which requires barangays to identify and designate isolations unit in their respective jurisdictions.
“A near-impossible order for these tiny LGU’s (local government units),” Marcos said of the DILG memo.
She also noted complaints about the Department of Health’s “laissez-faire” attitude towards the COVID-19 cases in the country, recalling the agency’s supposed decision to “delegate” to local government units the handling of passengers of the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship.
With this, she said, “The RITM should finally be institutionalized and expanded to the regions in order to undertake a more proactive role, providing scientific bases, treatment protocols, and detailed implementing rules and regulations to LGUs, other national agencies, and the general public.”
She also proposed the establishment of RITM regional centers in “key population” areas of the country, such as Cebu and Davao, and other provinces as may be determined by its Advisory Board.
Under the bill, the RITM shall remain under the control and supervision of the DOH, and shall be headed by a director and an assistant director, to be appointed by the Secretary of Health.
The advisory board, meanwhile, shall be composed of the Secretary of Health as the chairperson, with the executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) and a representative from the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) as members.
The bill also seeks to authorize the RITM to generate and use its income pursuant to its mandate.
SB 1407 is pending before the Senate health and demography committee. Congress is currently on recess and will resume sessions on May 4.