Duterte meets key officials on frontliners’ plea

Published August 2, 2020, 3:00 PM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

President Duterte was set to meet Sunday with key members of his Cabinet to discuss the appeal of medical frontliners to revert Metro Manila to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on August 2, 2020.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the meeting was called to address the sentiments of the medical frontliners that “the country is fighting a losing war against the pandemic and that they need a time out as more hospitals get flooded with patients.” 

The Palace has yet to disclose the details of a meeting that took place on Saturday. 

Roque, however, said that they will immediately submit their recommendation to the President for his review. 

Roque said that prior to the Saturday meeting, senior government officials met with representatives from the Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Nurses Association, and the Philippine Association of Medical Technologists to discuss “the concerns of the medical community amid the challenges of COVID-19.” 

In a letter, the medical frontliners said they are waging a losing battle against COVID-19 and stressed that a definitive plan of action is needed to better address the situation. 

“The health sector cannot hold the line for much longer,” the medical frontliners wrote in their letter to the President. “We propose that the two-week ECQ be used as a ‘time out’ to refine our (COVID-19) pandemic control strategies, addressing urgent problems,” they added. 

Malacañang initially thumbed down the plea of the medical community, saying it was time to intensify other strategies like localized lockdowns. 

However, on Saturday afternoon, Roque said that Duterte heard the call of the medical community and has ordered the IATF to “act on these concerns immediately” since they are important in the battle against the pandemic. 

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said that he would present the appeal of the medical community to revert the National Capital Region (NCR) to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). 

“Fellow health workers, please know that as the Secretary of Health, I hear your pleas – and I will present these to the IATF. We have noted in particular your call for a time-out for the NCR,” said Duque. 

“We will bring it to the full attention of the IATF and present to them more comprehensive strategies to protect our ranks,” he added. 

Duque assured the healthcare workers that he understands their concerns, saying that the national government will “provide comprehensive support.” 

“We will revisit and include the inputs we have gathered in our overall game plan. The DOH will develop this strategy in coordination with our government and non-government counterparts in the next seven days,” he said. 

“We commit to do more to ‘care for our carers’ with detailed plans for support – from easier actions such as facilitating lodging, transportation, PPE (personal protective equipment), and food – to pushing for more systematic reforms on compensation and benefits, including necessary network-based changes to healthcare practice,” he added. 

NCR under ECQ nixed 

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra yesterday said placing the NCR under the more stringent ECQ as suggested by several groups of medical frontliners would result in many workers dying of hunger. 

“I understand where our medical and health professionals are coming from. They are expectedly getting weary. I agree that they need all the support and care that the government can provide,” Guevarra said. 

“But everyone else is getting weary. Millions of people need to go back to work and earn a living, or else they die of hunger. We need to stir the economy back to life, albeit gradually, lest we reach a point where it will be doubly difficult to recover,” he added. 

“All of us have to make personal sacrifices for the common good. All these will come to pass, and when it’s all over the nation will remember with gratitude those who were heroes during this dreadful pandemic. Our doctors, nurses, and other health workers surely top them all.” 

Listen to frontliners 

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Sunday urged President Duterte to take some time off to personally interact and listen to the needs of those in the health care sector who are now sounding a distress call to the government. 

“There are good recommendations on how to press the pause button without killing the main economic engine of the nation – Mega Manila. We can defuse this ticking pandemic megabomb without blowing up the economy to pieces,” Recto said. 

“The search for this elusive sweet spot begins with this: Mr. President, please make time to personally listen to the physicians. Hear their frontline stories firsthand and without filter. It is time for you to set an appointment with the doctors,” the senator said. 

Recto warned that if the number of COVID cases in the Philippines hits 100,000 today, “it will sound an emergency alarm that can only be turned off by ringing the timeout bell.” 

“The timeout they are calling for is actually a challenge for government to work double time. The choice, however, is not binary.” 

Senators renewed their call on the Duterte government to exhaust all means in preventing the Philippine health care system from collapsing due to the coronavirus disease or the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With doctors, nurses, and all medical frontline workers now calling for a breather, Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Philippine Red Cross, said it is imperative that the government takes into consideration the plight of all healthcare workers in deciding whether or not to revert back to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) especially in Metro Manila. 

“It should be considered as far as I’m concerned… To me life is more important and it’s going to be difficult if we lose doctors. The government should study this very, very carefully,” Gordon said. 

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, assured the medical community that their concerns are heard by the government, and said he is now studying the possibility of providing financial assistance and additional benefits such as life insurance coverage for private sector healthcare workers who are assigned to handle COVID-19 cases. 

Go said he will ask President Duterte, the economic state managers, and other lawmakers if they can include health care workers in the private sector as part of the beneficiaries in the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or “Bayanihan 2.” 

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said he believes the government can agree to a 10-day lockdown as a compromise as it considers the suggestion of the medical sector. 

Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. said that while authorities continue to weigh between re-implementing ECQ and reviving the local economy, the safety of the Filipino people must be an utmost priority. 

Nagkaisa Labor Coalition Chairman Sonny Matula also called on the government not to ignore the call of health workers for a time out, saying it was not simply the health workers’ demand for a rest day but more as a “mayday call” to save the country’s exhausted healthcare system. 

ECQ for better strategy, not to ‘go out of town’

The appeal of healthcare workers to place the National Capital Region under ECQ anew aims to come up with a better strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic and not for them to go “out of town,” an officer of the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said Sunday. 

“Kailangan natin yung dalawang linggo hindi para magpahinga kami at mag-out of town, [kung hindi] makapagpahinga kami, mag-isip ng maayos, at makarecover ‘yung mga empleyado namin na hindi makapasok para po hindi lumala lalo yung understaffing [We need two weeks not to rest and go out of town, but to rest, think (of a better plan); and let those employees, who can’t go to work, to recover so that the understaffing does not get worse],” said FNU officer Jaymee de Guzman. 

De Guzman is hoping that the government will understand the current situation of the healthcare workers. 

“Ayun po ay para mabigyan kami ng sapat na panahon. Kasi, kung naka -ECQ ang mga tao, mababawasan po yung lalabas, mababawasan yung mahahawahan [That is to give us enough time because if people are on ECQ, the number of those who would go outside as well as the number of infection will be reduced],” she said. (With Leslie Ann Aquino)