Presidential bets bare plans for next COVID-19 surge

screengrabbed from Commission on Elections’ “PiliPinas Debates 2022: The Turning Point”

The nine presidential candidates’ responses to future COVID-19 surge varied with some putting emphasis on fast vaccine rollout and others mulling on strengthening other public health protocols. 

Faisal Mangondato, a businessman and standard-bearer of Katipunan ng Kamalayang Kayumanggi, emphasized the need to focus on the medicines against COVID-19 so the country would not be dependent on the vaccines. 

“We should look at the many medicines discovered in the country that can cure the pandemic,” Mangondato said Saturday during the Commission on Elections’ first “PiliPinas Debates 2022: The Turning Point.”

While there are COVID-19 drugs authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, no medicine against the virus has been discovered yet in the Philippines. 

Meanwhile, cardiologist and lawyer Jose Montemayor Jr. vowed aggressive testing, tracing, and treatment but emphasized the need to immunize Filipinos, especially children, seniors, and the immunocompromised, by giving them vaccines. However, in later statements, he falsely claimed that vaccination could lead to more infections. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection that “almost never causes illnesses.” Rather, vaccines produce antibodies as the body builds immunity against a disease. 

He also proposed mitigation by increasing the country’s healthcare management through increasing the budget for the health system, hospitals, doctors, and nurses. 

“Our approach must be something holistic. We have to be aggressive in preventing this.” Montemayor said. 

For Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, the solution is to strictly implement mask mandates and learn to live with COVID-19 which includes contact tracing. He also proposed closing the Philippine borders to prevent the virus from spreading. 

“Pero tuloy po ang hanapbuhay ng tao, hindi po natin sila pipigilan (The livelihood of people shall continue and we would not prohibit them from working),” Pacquiao said, adding that the country should follow the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, on the other hand, said that the focus should be vaccination among Filipinos.

“Our initial target is that 77 million Filipinos should be vaccinated. We are still lacking 13 million to reach our target. So the first thing that I will do is to make sure that we will reach and surpass that,” Robredo said.

As of March 13, 64.5 million individuals have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 59.19 percent of the whole Philippine population. Robredo also claimed that only 16 percent of the target population have been able to receive their booster shots. 

However, only 10.24 percent of the whole Philippine population were inoculated with their third dose of COVID-19, a figure lower than the target population. 

Once elected as president, Robredo assured the public that access to testing would be more affordable and she would focus on the rollout of Universal Health Care in relation to hospital capacity and situations of health care workers.

“We know the problem with our tracing. We should not wait for the next surge. We need to centralize all contract tracing apps into a nationwide application that we will use as a database,” Robredo said.

Last year, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that the StaySafe, which is a contact tracing application adopted by the government, had “almost no impact” during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigation on the fund utilization of his department.

Former national defense secretary Norberto Gonzales agreed with Robredo regarding the vaccination process in the country. 

Siguro po dapat pumunta na tayo sa United Nations. Sabihin natin, bakit ba ang gamot sa pandemya, ginagawa pa nating negosyo. Eh dapat po sana i-appeal na natin, ‘wag gawing negosyo,” he said.

Former speaker Ernesto Abella said that it should focus less on authority as the COVID-19 response must be consultative. 

“What we can do is to develop what you call a health security council which include DOH, DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), and civil society,” Abella said.

However, the country already has IATF which is composed of different executive offices not limited to DOH, Department of Foreign Affairs, DILG, Department of Justice, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Tourism, and Department of Transportation and Communications which may call upon any instrumentality of government including local government units and non-government organizations. 

“We need to take care of the health workers’ needs and aside from that, we need to address the concerns of people who are skeptic of the vaccines,” Abella said.

Labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” De Guzman said that the government should not treat the health problem in the country as a business.

“First step is to resolve food scarcity. We should make sure that our citizens are healthy so they will have a strong body to fight any virus,” De Guzman said.

According to the US Global Leadership Coalition, the current pandemic has increased food insecurity “by reducing incomes and disrupting food supply chains.”

De Guzman further said that he would allocate a budget to resolve issues related to the situation of health workers in the country by giving them what they need and by increasing the number of health manpower from the barangay to the national level. 

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso vowed to use the money left unused from both Bayanihan 1 and 2 to buy health equipment, build COVID-19 field hospitals, and COVID-19 medicines which the City of Manila purchased. 

“Protect and prevent anyone from dying of infection from COVID by giving them the opportunity and access to a better healthcare system,” Domagoso added. 

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said that the country should be ready for another pandemic other than the COVID-19. 

“That’s why as early as 2020, I filed a bill to establish Virology Science and Technology Institute. Unfortunately, it’s still not passed but it already has a P982-million peso fund in the 2022 General Appropriations Act as a startup,” Lacson added. 

IATF caucus

On the other hand, Montemayor Jr. also addressed the need to abolish the IATF by claiming that the people behind IATF are lawyers. 

Pacquiao responded that the agency needs guidelines under a leader.

Hindi masama ang IATF, dahil kailangan nga natin ang IATF, pero kailangan lang talaga ay ‘yong guidelines manggagaling sa isang pinuno, isang pangulo (IATF is not bad, we need it but what we need are guidelines directly coming from the President),” Pacquiao added. 

Pacquiao clarified that he does not support the abolishment of the IATF, but instead supports the replacement of officials inside the agency.

Furthermore, Domagoso corrected Montemayor Jr. regarding the officials in the agency.

“With all due respect to Mr. Montemayor, I think he is not aware that IATF is also supported and composed of medical frontliners and specialists in healthcare,” Domagoso said. F — M.L. Beech

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