By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Sunday that he did not use his influence over the Department of Health (DOH) in being tested for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) amid the lack of testing kits in the country.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page on Sunday night, Sotto admitted that he was tested twice for the disease in fear of his exposure to persons under investigation (PUIs) or persons under monitoring (PUMs).
He, however, said the first test — where he tested negative — was not administered by the DOH.
“This was done with the help of a friend from a private sector who has a testing kit which is not yet approved by DOH and FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Its accuracy has not been certified yet and it is a very simple testing strip with instant results,” Sotto said.
The Senate leader drew flak from netizens after confessing that he took two tests for COVID-19, and is still waiting for the result of the second test.
Sotto said he was first tested on March 16, Monday, “to ensure that I can still perform my duties and meet key people to help address the needs of our country in this trying times.”
On Tuesday, March 17, he told media that he, along with Senators Pia Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Francis Tolentino, were tested by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in his office at the Senate. Reporters were told that they were not manifesting any symptoms then.
Despite yielding a negative result in the first test, Sotto said he decided to take the “confirmatory test” from the DOH after “manifesting dry cough and sore throat for days and due to my age and exposure to PUIs and PUMs.”
He said he “never asked to be prioritized” in the testing.
“I know that a number of PUIs needs the DOH-approved testing kits more. In fact, I am hoping and monitoring that this instant testing kit be accredited to be of use as soon as possible by DOH,” Sotto said.
Some senators took the COVID-19 testing after Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri announced last week that he was COVID-19 positive despite being asymptomatic.
He believed he contracted the disease from one of their visitors in the Senate where a COVID-19 patient was also found to have attended a committee hearing.
The DOH had insisted that there is no need for mass testing yet for COVID-19, citing the lack of accredited testing kits and difficulties in the testing capabilities of the country’s hospitals.
DOH officials said that the COVID-19 test could only be administered to patients who have been exhibiting severe symptoms of the disease, and the elderly or those experiencing mild symptoms but have existing medical conditions.
Sotto, 71, had explained that it was important to make sure that key government officials remain healthy.
“Health stability of key government officials is most important for the country,” Sotto was quoted as saying in an ABS-CBN News report last week.