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Duterte gov't did not foresee gravity of virus spike in March – Densing

The Duterte administration was blindsided by the unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases in March 2021, Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said.

“We never expected that the surge will be more than that of last year. We have to remember that the health care system was already that strong as early as January,” Densing said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday, April 5.

The number of active cases in the Philippines topped 143,000 as of Monday.

But in January, while government officials were mulling over the possibility of further easing lockdown restrictions, experts had already warned that the emergence of new, more infectious COVID-19 variants in the country’s shores could spell trouble for the Philippines.

Densing said they set their expectations for March based on the government’s capacity to ward off a potential COVID-19 surge in January.

“We expected a vacation or holiday surge, and even the Traslacion, but it did not happen. The system was strong until the second surge came in the first week of March but it was more than what was expected last year,” Densing said.

Densing added he sees the arrival of more COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines as the only “direct solution” to the unprecedented spike in coronavirus infections.

“This is a problem which we cannot anticipate. We do not know how the problem will move. We have no direct solutions right now except the vaccines,” Densing said.

Progressive groups have said the Duterte administration should not only focus on acquiring vaccines, but also on intensifying contact tracing and mass testing efforts.

Willing to listen to criticism?

Densing insisted that the government is willing to take criticism of its pandemic response “as long as it is true and verified.”

He made the statement as he stood by his claim that Vice President Leni Robredo is “non-essential" to the Philippines' COVID-19 fight.

"It seems in our country, instead of the opposition helping out and encouraging even us government workers to continue to work, I think we’re being discouraged by attacking what we’re doing," Densing said.

"What we need right now is encouragement, not criticism,” he added.

Robredo, the leader of the opposition, has time and time again used her platform to call out the government over its alleged mishandling of the pandemic, and lay out detailed suggestions on how to improve the country’s COVID-19 response.

President Duterte and Malacañang, however, have resorted to criticizing her publicly over her inputs.

Netizens over the weekend did not take lightly Densing’s jab at the Vice President.

Hindi talaga essential si lugaw (This lugaw is non-essential),” Densing said on April 2, in an apparent swipe at Robredo, whose critics associate with porridge since photos of her campaign team selling porridge went viral during the 2016 elections.

Robredo herself clapped back at him in her radio show on Sunday, saying Densing's remarks are a reminder that government officials should be hired based on qualifications, not politics.

It was Duterte who promoted Densing to interior undersecretary in 2018. – Rappler.com