Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes that the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) declared by President Duterte for Mega Manila was a “good” middle ground between the call of health workers for stricter quarantine measures and the reservations about its economic impact.
Sotto said that while he sympathizes with the plight of exhausted health workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government also had to weigh the situation.
“Aside from sympathizing with the frontliners, I sympathize with the government because this is one problem that I don’t want to be deciding on,” he said in an online press briefing.
“I think the executive department, particularly the [Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases], they are hand-cuffed. Talagang (Really) they have to balance the economic impact, so they found a middle ground which is the MECQ…Nag-GCQ na tayo eh (We were already in general community quarantine), for the government to go back to MECQ is already giving in, although they could not give in totally because of the economic impact, dahil baka totally madevastate tayo (because we could be totally devastated),” he continued.
Duterte, following a public address late Sunday night, approved the recommendation to again place Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, and Rizal under MECQ from August 4 to 18. Medical associations had appealed for the reversion of the ECQ, the strictest of the government’s four quarantine classifications.
“MECQ would be good enough…at least they gave in, merong (there was a) middle ground, hindi nag-stonewall (they did not stonewall the proposal),” Sotto said. “I’d rather be not in that shoes right now, napakahirap. Because they are trying to balance.”
“But it’s been said, and I’ve said it before, ang ekonomiya kayang buhayin, ang buhay ng tao hindi kayang buhayin (we can revive the economy, but not the lives of people),” he said.
Sotto, however, disagreed with criticisms that the government had no plans to address the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing out that the authorities are “continuing” and increasing their efforts.
He said he believes that the government will take the MECQ period as an opportunity to review its strategies.
“Because from February we did not know how the enemy works. Ang dami nating hindi alam (We had a lot to learn)…we were blindsided by this problem,” he said.
“Ngayon pwede na masabi na medyo kabisado na nila (Now, maybe we can say that they quite know what to) although I don’t think they’re 100 percent on the bottom of this. Kaya (That’s why) I do agree that we must recalibrate,” Sotto said.
Sotto also agreed that the government should consider the opposition of medical groups to the use of rapid test kits, although he thought that these “help somehow”.
“Yong paggamit kasi ng rapid (The use of the rapid tests), the way I understand it, maganda yon kung may mga symptoms…and then the PCR tests aren’t available yet. So we cannot — I don’t think we can do away with it 100 percent because it helps somehow. Pero (But), again, there should be a very clear manifestation by the DOH on the reliability of rapid tests.”
“Well they are the health professionals, I think we should give weight to what they say,” Sotto said.
Meanwhile, the Senate chief expressed willingness to accommodate the increase in the compensation and benefits for healthcare workers in the proposed Bayanihan 2 as Duterte raised in his meeting with Cabinet officials.
“We assure you, we will incorporate in the Bayanihan 2,” Sotto said. “It’s a matter of prioritization, I think, P140 billion at this point will be the peg, but if necessary, the executive department can find ways to increase it,” Sotto said.
The Bayanihan 2 proposes a P140-billion allocation for COVID-19 response and recovery programs.