Following the Department of Health’s (DOH’s) decision to raise the alert system on the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), Senator Nancy Binay on Sunday called on government communication agencies to prioritize public health interests in the light of a possible corona virus outbreak.
“We are at a crucial point where communication is vital in confronting a state of public health emergency.”
“Kailangan mag-step up ang ibang agencies at PCOO (Presidential Communications Operations Office) in elevating the ante in risk communication. Wag na muna nilang ubusin ang oras nila sa kung anong roadshow sa Europe dahil dapat Pilipinas muna ang bigyan natin ng focus para labanan ang paglaganap ng Covid-19,” Binay pointed out.
With alert warning raised to “Code Red Sublevel-1”, the senator said the Philippines is already in the threshold of a public health emergency and the Department of Health is in need of risk communication experts to help them explain the facts to the public, local government officials, and even to private institutions.
“In these times of confusion, panic is the enemy. Importante ang role ng risk communication ng gobyerno in order to manage much of the panic around the virus. Ang tanong ko sa PCOO, maliban sa pino-post sa ‘Laging Handa PH’ Facebook page, meron na ba silang ready and executable national and local risk communication plans for this kind of public health emergency we’re in?” the senator asked.
According to Binay, it would be best if Malacanang sets up a high-level risk communication team composed of representatives from different agencies to ensure that information and data coming from government agencies, other than DOH, are vetted and verified.
“I hope PCOO gets its priorities straight. Yung isang oras na video documentary on drug war eh baka pwede rin gumawa ng kahit 2-minuter na infomercials in different dialects. It makes public health officials’ jobs harder kapag may mga taong na di naman bihasa sa public health ang nagsasalita para sa DOH, and making it difficult for people to know who to trust. That’s why the DOH needs all the help from legit government communication portals in providing factual, timely and honest information to a near-panicking public,” the senator added.
Binay said the PCOO, thru the Philippine Information Agency, can use the free airtime allotted for government public service announcements in national and local TV and radio stations.
Broadcast franchise grantees are required by law to provide adequate public service time to enable the government to reach the public on important issues, and assist in the functions of public information and education like health advisories such as COVID-19.
“I hope the PCOO does have any communication plan in handling a COVID-19 emergency scenario, otherwise it somehow gives us a picture that government is not in control of the situation. The danger of fake news and misinformation is very real. Being ill-prepared during emergencies undermines the trust in our institutions,” she noted.
Binay said effective communication is critical during emergencies like the COVID-19 outbreak, as containment remains a major concern for everyone.
“This is no longer a medical issue but a horrifying social issue. Sana, kung gaano ka-intense at persuasive ang ginagawa nilang roadshow para sa Europe, sana ganoon din ka-aggressive ang kampanya nila sa mga probinsya kung paano maiwasan ang COVID-19 at kung ano ang dapat gawin sa pag-contain nito,” the senator said./Stacy Ang