Senators examine DILG’s appeal for P5-B fund to hire contact tracing teams; suggest digital way more efficient

Published August 14, 2020, 7:25 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators were skeptical about the Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) appeal for a P5-billion fund to hire contact tracing teams under the proposed Bayanihan 2 law.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III confirmed on Friday that he was informed about the request of DILG Secretary Eduardo Año for funds to hire and train 50,000 more contact tracers.

Sotto, however, said that such a request would require more details.

“Sen. [Sonny] Angara told me. I told him I want it explained on how they plan to use it to ensure [there is] no wastage,” Sotto said in a text message to the Manila Bulletin.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the P5 billion could just be used to invest on digital contact tracing, which he said would be more efficient and reliable than manual interviews.

“Talagang mano-mano ‘yon (It’s really manual). Mahirap, eh, napansin natin kung ang tao umalis, nakakalimutan niya talaga sino, saan siya pumunta, sino nakasalamuha niya, at mas importante pang gumamit ng technology (It would be difficult to do, we notice that when people leave their homes, they lose track of where they went, or those they had interacted with, so it’s better to use technology),” Gatchalian said in a separate online interview with reporters.

“I would prefer na gumamit tayo ng technology sa contact tracing (that we utilize technology for contact tracing),” he said, citing Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea that have used COVID-19 tracking applications.

“So imbes na mano-mano gawin nating contact tracing , gumawa na lang ng standard technology for contact tracing (instead of manually doing the contact tracing, let’s just develop a standard technology for contact tracing).”

In June, senators rejected the call of the Department of Health (DOH) for an P11.7-billion fund to finance the hiring of thousands of workers to help look for the close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Sotto said then that it would be “wiser and more practical” for the DOH to use such funds for treating infected persons instead.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, said the government could just tap village health workers to help out in contact tracing. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for his part, said the simple and more affordable technologies used by local government units could be adopted by the national government.

The Bicameral Conference Committee started on Friday their deliberation on the differing provisions of the Senate and the House of Representatives’ versions of the proposed “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act”.