Robredo: ‘Complacent’ at the start, PH playing catch-up in COVID-19 fight

Mara Cepeda
Robredo: ‘Complacent’ at the start, PH playing catch-up in COVID-19 fight

JAY GANZON/OVP

(UPDATED) Vice President Leni Robredo says the 'gaps' in the government's coronavirus response efforts are now being felt

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines is now playing catch-up in its coronavirus response efforts because the Duterte government “did not act urgently” before the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, Vice President Leni Robredo said on Thursday, June 25.

Robredo made the statement on ANC’s Headstart on Thursday, when asked about “gaps” in government efforts to address the pandemic in the country. Two days before, the country reported 1,150 new cases in a single day.

“My sense is that we did not act urgently. Kaya nararamdaman natin ngayon ‘yung mga gaps kasi naging complacent tayo at the very start eh (My sense is that we did not act urgently. We’re feeling the gaps now because we were complacent at the very start),” the Vice President said.

Robredo recalled how it took weeks for the Philippine government to finally decide to ban all flights from China, where Hubei was the epicenter of the outbreak. The virus has so far infected over 9.3 million all over the world. (READ: Even with coronavirus scare, no mainland Chinese travel ban for now – Duque) 

“Kung naaalala natin, we have been pushing for cancellation of flights already from China. Medyo nag-dillly-dally pa tayo doon eh. And when finally we decided to cancel flights… we were not very strict on its implementation,” Robredo said. 

(If we can remember, we have been pushing for cancellation of flights already from China. But we still dilly-dallied on that. And when finally we decided to cancel flights…we were not very strict on its implementation.)

In the Philippines, 32,295 people already tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, June 24, with 1,204 deaths and 8,656 recoveries.

She said the experience of Wuhan in Hubei, China, should have served as an “example” for the Philippines, but the country did not learn its lesson. 

‘Gaps’

Robredo said “gaps” in the government’s COVID-19 response include its missed targets in terms of coronavirus testing, which is key to curbing the outbreak, as shown by the experience of countries that have contained the spread of the virus.

She noted that after imposing the world’s longest lockdown, the government has yet to achieve its twin goals of conducting 30,000 tests a day, and setting up over 100 testing centers. (READ: Where are the promised 30,000 tests a day? The government’s moving targets)

“We were promised30,000 tests a day. Until now, wala pa yata tayo sa kalahati o kalahati pa lang. Halimbawa, the target for labs, testing centers is, I think, 132? Now, we have 59, if I’m not mistaken, tapos only 45 of that is forthe swab tests,” Robredo said. 

(We were promised30,000 tests a day. Until now, we have not even reached half of that or we’re only at the halfway mark. For example, the target for testing centers is, I think, 132? Now, we have 59, if I’m not mistaken, but only 45 of that is for the swab tests.)

The Vice President said the government should meet these targets as soon as possible. Otherwise, people would still have no confidence to leave their homes, even if quarantine measures are relaxed.

“Even if we ease the lockdown already, even if we have partial lockdown, even if we have GCQ (general community quarantine) or MGCQ (modified GCQ) already, if people are still afraid to go out, then nothing would happen. Businesses will suffer, and if that happens, we’ll all affected,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Another gap, she said is providing sufficient personal protective equipment (PPEs) to frontliners early on.

“Noong nag-ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) na tayo, parang walang sense of urgency, halimbawa, in providing PPEs for our frontliners. Ang tingin ko ‘yun ‘yung kaya hanggang ngayon, marami pa tayong kina-catch up instead of sumasabay na tayo doon sa experiences ng iba,” Robredo said, referring to countries that had been proactive in fighting COVID-19 from the get-go.

(When we were placed under ECQ, there seems to be no sense of urgency, for example, in providing PPEs for our frontliners. I think these are the reasons why until now, we are still playing catch-up instead of being at pace with the experience of others.)

Assistance

Since the pandemic hit, Robredo herself has been busy in helping fill the gaps her office identified in the government’s response to the pandemic. (READ: ‘Not time to keep score’: Robredo focuses on frontliners, not politics)

She said her office initially raised P5.9 million to buy PPEs for medical frontliners who had yet to get their gear from the national government. Her office continued to receive requests from different hospitals and medical facilities in the next weeks, prompting the Office of the Vice President to continue its donation drive to distribute more PPEs nationwide.

The Office of the Vice President has primarily focused on assisting frontliners by raising millions worth of funds to provide them with PPEs, test kits, food packs, dormitories for those who have no place to sleep, and even a free shuttle service when the government was not yet finished establishing its own transport system for frontliners. 

Months into the pandemic, COVID-19 cases suddenly started spiking in parts of the Visayas, where provinces initially enjoyed few to zero confirmed cases for weeks until the government started implementing the now-suspended Balik Probinsya program.  

The Department of Health said Cebu City, Cebu province, Ormoc City, Leyte, Southern Leyte, and Samar are now among the “emerging hotspots” of the COVID-19 pandemic. (READ: E. Visayas lawmakers seek review of ‘Hatid Probinsya’ after spike in coronavirus cases) 

A University of the Philippines study predicted that the Philippines may hit 40,000 cases by the end of June if the contagion is not contained. – Rappler.com

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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 mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.