MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang came to the defense of Cabinet officials who, over the weekend, visited without any protective gear the Filipino peacekeepers from Liberia who are in quarantine on Caballo Island.
On Tuesday, November 18, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the visit of Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang and Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Janette Garin followed all protocols set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The officials were pictured mingling with the soldiers wearing no protective gear.
“They are fulfilling their duties in the way they know best,” he said, adding that “all health protocols are being observed in the ongoing quarantine process.”
Coloma said resource persons from the WHO are even willing to explain health protocols in detail to media to clarify any confusion.
He later released a statement saying that according to DOH Spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, “there is no need for the wearing of protective gear when interacting with the repatriated peacekeepers as long as they are ‘asymptomatic,’ which means they are not exhibiting any of the known symptoms of the Ebola Virus Disease and as such, they pose no danger of contamination or infection.”
Garin and Catapang are under fire for their visit, after the Philippine College of Physicians accused them of breaching protocol by failing to wear any protective gear.
At least 133 United Nations peacekeepers are in Caballo Island, a Philippine Navy outpost in Cavite City, since Wednesday, November 12, for a mandatory 21-day quarantine. They served a United Nations mission in Ebola-hit Liberia. No soldier has tested positive for Ebola.
Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito called Garin “reckless” and accused her of “violating the specific instruction from Malacañang to take extra precautions in handling the Ebola virus.”
He added: “We do not need publicity stunts right now in dealing with a very dangerous disease like Ebola.”
Garin said, however, that Ejercito misinterpreted Malacañang’s instruction. “‘Extra precaution’ means ‘di ka kakamay, ‘di ka magbebeso-beso, and at the same time there’s frequent handwashing, and, pagkalabas mo, immediately nagdi-disinfectant ka sa kamay.”
(“Extra precaution” means you won’t shake their hands, you won’t greet them with a kiss, and at the same time there’s frequent handwashing, and, as soon as you get out, you disinfect your hands.)
The acting health secretary also denied she was after publicity. “Hindi po iyon pasikat, dahil kung pasikat ‘yun, we would’ve invited media, sent out pictures. It might not be popular to many, but I’m here…to do my job, and my job is to look at the welfare of these soldiers, to look at the health welfare of Filipino people and not to leave any Filipinos, especially our soldiers, unattended.”
(It was not an attempt to get attention. If it was, we would’ve invited the media, sent our pictures.)
Earlier, Catapang said he wanted to highlight there was nothing to worry about regarding Ebola in the country.
The Palace also gave assurances the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “continues to provide communication and recreational facilities to make the peacekeepers’ stay in Caballo Island pleasant and comfortable.”
“We thank the peacekeepers and their families for their cooperation in our determined efforts to endure that the Philippines is ‘Ebola-free,'” he said. – with a report from Jee Geronimo/Rappler.com