Duterte’s first COVID-19 response report lacks details

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Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he was dissatisfied with the first report of President Rodrigo Duterte submitted to Congress on the actions taken on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We have to see a comprehensive COVID financial package that will cover both the health and economic aspects. The report does not show us what this looks like,” Drilon said in a statement on Tuesday.

“For one, has the government augmented our health workforce? The 2020 budget has funds for the hiring of nurses and doctors under the Miscellaneous and Personnel Benefit Fund,” Drilon said.

Drilon pointed out that, based on Duterte’s report, no special purpose funds had been tapped for COVID-19 measures, except for the P500 million replenishment of the DOH’s quick response Fund.

Drilon, along with Senators Pia Cayetano, Bong Go, and Panfilo Lacson, were part of the Congressional Joint Oversight Committee tasked to review Duterte’s weekly reports that are required under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

According to the Palace’s report, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) urged all national government agencies to “utilize any and all released allotments from the FY 2019 and 2020 GAA to support their corresponding response activities that are attributable to their existing appropriations.”

(Read a copy of the report here courtesy of ABS-CBN—  https://drive.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=https://sa.kapamilya.com/absnews/abscbnnews/media/2020/news/03/31/report-to-the-joint-congressional-oversight-committee-30-march-2020.pdf )

Duterte’s report also cited that no other government projects had been discontinued to augment the fund for COVID-19 response, despite the said advice from the DBM to utilize all existing released allotments.

While acknowledging that the report “outlines the various guidelines issued by different agencies covering their respective sectors,” and showed “a snapshot of actual figures of the government response,” Senator Joel Villanueva  said, as  he expected more action points in future reports.

“In the succeeding weeks, we hope to see a clearer picture on how the response is actually operationalized,” he said.

For her part, Senator Risa Hontiveros expressed dismay over the public address delivered by Duterte before midnight on Monday.

“The President’s late-night talk show last night was the prelude to a night of bad sleep, to the detriment of the Filipino people’s regular sleeping hours and overall health,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“After almost eight hours of delay, the public was presented with neither a sound assessment nor a concrete plan to address the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19 crisis,” Hontiveros said.

“What are the steps being taken by the government to enhance our capacity for mass testing? How do we ensure that there are enough personal protective equipment [PPE] in every hospital? How do we get the cash assistance to the most vulnerable as soon as possible? So far, the President provided no clear answers to these questions. It is alarming,” she said.

Gabriela Women’s Partylist echoed Hontiveros’ concerns, saying it was better if Duterte mentioned the names of fallen health workers instead of “oligarchs and corporation who are just sharing crumbs from their profit.”

“It is very inappropriate for Duterte to romanticize the death of our health workers under current circumstances as some stroke of luck. In fact he should be alarmed: we are losing those who are supposed to save lives,” Gagriela said.

“How could the President miss this very critical lens at this crucial time? Bakit sasabihing swerte sila sa kanilang pagkamatay gayong dapat na manatili silang buhay nang makapagpatuloy sa paglilingkod sa bayan?” they said.

On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Duterte’s initial report, in general, met his expectations.

“It’s quite precise and concise to the spirit of what we expect.  Although some provisions are still in process, most are being executed already,”  Sotto said.

Last week, Congress passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act to grant additional powers to Duterte that would help him address the COVID-19 situation.

Section 5 of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act states that: “The President, during Monday of every week, shall submit a weekly report to Congress of all acts performed pursuant to this Act during the immediately preceding week.”

The weekly report shall include the amount and corresponding utilization of the funds that were used, augmented, reprogrammed, reallocated, and realigned for COVID-19 response.

The country’s hospitals continue to suffer from a lack of PPEs as the supply of medical equipment plunged worldwide, while at least 12 doctors have died fighting in the frontlines against the respiratory illness.

The Philippines has declared a national emergency and placed Luzon under a month-long lockdown COVID-19, which has infected 1,546 in the country as of Monday afternoon./Stacy Ang

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