DENR chief Roy Cimatu to oversee Cebu City's COVID-19 response

President Rodrigo Duterte has designated Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu as the deputy implementer of the government's coronavirus response in the Visayas. 

On Monday evening, June 22, Duterte instructed Cimatu, a retired military general, to go to Cebu and report on how "grave" the situation is. (READ: National task force to 'evaluate' Cebu City's COVID-19 response)

"He will exercise all the powers of that body (National Task Force COVID-19) to advise Manila here these things are being done, these things [that] are not yet being done, [and] these things [that] still have to be done," Duterte said.

"I am just sad that Cebu has to undergo that kind of painful situation," he added.

The President said he expects Cimatu to make appropriate policy recommendations on what the government should do to stop the spread of the virus within the week.

Highest number of cases

Cebu City currently has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country at 4,449

A recent University of the Philippines study showed that the coronavirus reproduction number in Cebu is almost 2 – about double than Metro Manila's 0.96 at the time – after 3 months in lockdown.

This means the virus is likely to infect two people on average in Cebu City and province. The same UP study predicted that the contagion in Cebu City and province could reach 11,000 cases by June 30 if not contained. (READ: ‘Cause for concern’: Experts project 11,000 coronavirus cases in Cebu by June 30)

Duterte placed Cebu City on lockdown again on June 16, after a consistent rise in confirmed coronavirus cases. This was after Cebuanos got a short reprieve from the lockdown when it was placed under general community quarantine from June 1 to 15.

No blame game

Duterte, however, clarified that he's not blaming any of the local officials for the situation, and that he only needs to get a clearer picture of how Cebu's numbers skyrocketed.

"It's not that I don't trust your capability, it's the penchant that you should go into a sort of a blame game, and nobody would answer for anything," Duterte said in his speech about officials in Cebu currently heading the coronavirus response.

Aside from Cebu City, Cebu province, and various Central Visayas regional councils, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV), headed by Secretary Michael Dino, has also been highly involved in the government's pandemic response in terms of crafting response policies, and distributing aid for residents and protective equipment for hospitals, among other things.

While local agencies have been releasing on their own data on coronavirus cases and hospital capacity, it was the national government that first raised the alarm over the situation in Cebu City, noting that the intensive care units and COVID-19 wards of hospitals in the city were already reaching maximum capacity.

Shortly after the lockdown was reimposed, the Cebu Medical Society urged the local government officials not to "downplay" the pandemic in Cebu City.

Before the national government raised the alarm, the local government units (LGUs) of Cebu City and the province, as well as the OPAV had been pushing for all LGUs on the island to ease restrictions further to boost the economy.

In fact, Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella appealed the Palace's decision to place the city under enhanced community quarantine at least twice in June. Both appeals were denied.

While the President did not blame the mayors or any local government, Duterte – who traces his roots to Cebu – did blame Cebuanos themselves for the rising number of cases.

"Cebuanos, don't get mad at me. You guys are stubborn," Duterte said in a mix of Cebuano and English. "This is not the first national emergency where the Cebuanos are too slow to move."

In his address, Duterte repeatedly cited the "complacency" of the Cebuano people as the reason for the spread of the virus.

Evaluation period 

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 47, which was specific about the coronavirus situation in Cebu, said the evaluation of Cebu City's coronavirus response will be conducted from Monday, June 22, to Friday, June 26.

This is the first time the national government is stepping in to oversee an LGU's COVID-19 response. Prior to this, LGUs were mostly autonomous in their coronavirus response efforts.

Cimatu will leave for Cebu on Tuesday, June 23, to begin his new role.

Cebu City reported 930 new coronavirus cases on its first week back on lockdown. 

Meanwhile, as of Monday, June 22, the Philippines recorded 30,682 cases, with 1,177 deaths and 8,143 recoveries. Experts predict the country will hit 40,000 cases by the end of June if the government is unable to contain the virus' spread. – Rappler.com

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.

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