Robredo to Duterte gov’t: Don’t waste time, act now vs coronavirus scare

Mara Cepeda

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'Wala na tayong panahon para sa mahabang usapan,' says Vice President Leni Robredo as she joins calls for a travel ban on people coming from mainland China

RELIEF FOR BATANGAS. Vice President Leni Robredo visits San Jose, Batangas on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, to bring relief aid to residents displaced by the unrest of Taal Volcano. File photo by Jay Ganzon/OVP

BATANGAS, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo urged President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to take “immediate action” on recommendations to impose a travel ban on all tourists coming from mainland China as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency  on the novel coronavirus or 2019-nCov.

On Friday, January 31, Robredo said the government should not waste time in ensuring Filipinos are safe, especially after the World Health Organization declaring an international emergency over the deadly new disease. 

Wala na tayong panahon para sa mahabang usapan. Buhay ng tao ang nakasalalay kaya agarang aksyon, tamang impormasyon at mabilisang desisyon ang kailangan,” the Vice President said.

(We should not waste time by holding long discussions. The lives of people are at stake here, so immediate action, the right information, and fast decision-making are needed.)

As of Friday, the number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 212  after worst-hit Hubei province reported 42 new fatalities. (READ: What we know so far on the novel coronavirus)

Robredo cited several recommendations to respond to the new disease, including a temporary travel ban on all Chinese mainlanders as well as putting in place the necessary support system for Filipinos in areas with recorded cases, including possible evacuation procedures.

Bawat minutong ipapagbukas pa ang pag-aksyon sa mga rekomendasyong ito, lalong nailalagay sa panganib ang kapakanan at kalusugan ng ating mga mamamayan,” Robredo said. 

(Every minute we spend delaying actions on these recommendations means further risking the well-being and health of our people.)

What now?

Philippine lawmakers have already urged the government to issue a temporary travel ban to and from China. The country has only temporarily stopped issuing visas to travelers from Hubei, China, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus that has so far killed 212 people there.

The government is calling for the repatriation of Filipino workers in China. On Thursday, January 30, the governor of Iloilo province called on Cebu Pacific airline to stop its flights from Hong Kong to the province’s international airport. Boracay Island is considering  a ban on tourists from China. 

But WHO’s emergency committee, an advisory body of international experts, said in a statement that evidence had shown that restricting movement of people and goods during public health emergencies “may be ineffective and may divert resources from other interventions.” 

“Further, restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative effects on the economies of countries affected by the emergencies,” the committee said.

Asked about the proposed travel ban involving China, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday, January 29, that it would be “very tricky” if the Philippines only imposes it on the neighboring giant, as other countries have recorded cases of the novel coronavirus as well.

A day after Duque’s statement before the House, he confirmed the country’s first case of the 2019-nCov: a 38-year-old Chinese national who flew to Cebu, then Dumaguete in the Philippines from Wuhan City, Hubei’s capital. 

She was later admitted at a government hospital in Manila on January 25, though she was no longer showing symptoms. 

Robredo said on Friday that this health crisis means Filipinos need, now more than ever, a government that would prioritize health.

Sa panahon ng krisis, dapat makaasa ang taumbayan sa kanyang pamahalaan na walang aaksayahing oras para unahin ang kanilang kapakanan,” she said.

(In times of crisis, the public should be able to rely on their government, who should not waste time in prioritizing their needs.) –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.