Recto: Don't muzzle independent research, criticisms on pandemic response

Published September 7, 2021, 1:46 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto rejected on Tuesday, September 7, attempts to censor independent researches and criticisms on the government’s COVID-19 response, saying their views would aid in improving policies.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto (Senate PRIB)

Recto first alluded to calls from their counterparts in the House of Representatives to stop OCTA Research from releasing statements about the pandemic, as well as about politics and the upcoming elections.

“We can’t contain the pandemic if we censor studies. After all, OCTA people do not craft policy. They merely recommend. And their output is subjected to review by the government’s own panel of experts,” Recto said in a statement.

He said the country should be encouraging collaboration, saying “the bigger the network of research groups and laboratories working on a problem, the bigger the crowd you can source ideas from”.

If the government’s narrative is not dominating the discussion, “then officials should up their game on how to communicate the findings”, he added.

“But telling OCTA to stand down is not the solution. Kung sa tingin ng pamahalaan hindi tama ang OCTA, then challenge their findings. This is the kind of exchange that will enlighten us all,” Recto said.

Recto also defended OCTA fellows amid questions on their credibility. The research group, he pointed out, was made up of “credentialed academics.”

“Hindi naman sila (They are not) conspiracy theorists that rely on fake news from fringe groups. Hindi naman sila (They are not) engaged in some sort of research budol-budol (deception),” the Senate leader stressed.

Recto likewise said that the Duterte administration should also not dismiss comments from non-allies, particularly Vice President Leni Robredo and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso on the administration’s handling of the pandemic.

Instead of brushing them aside as “politicking”, the Palace should view their comments as “valued feedback.”

“Dapat tingnan ang mga opinyon nila as dispatches from the frontlines, kasi nasa ground naman sila lagi pareho (Their opinion should be viewed as dispatches from the frontlines, because they are both on ground always),” he said.

Robredo and Moreno, he added, “are merely amplifying what health workers and local government executives have been saying.”

The Palace should treat local governments as important listening posts that can improve government handling of the pandemic, he further said.

“Every disaster movie begins with a scene of a scientist or a local official being ignored. Let us not allow this to happen in real life,” Recto said.