Department of Health

DOH says Octa ‘confuses’ public with its pandemic findings

Bonz Magsambol
DOH says Octa ‘confuses’ public with its pandemic findings

The Department of Health office in Sta. Cruz, Manila on September 1, 2021. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Mara Cepeda/Rappler

'We, in the government, we all know that we're not just battling cases, we're also battling infodemic,' says Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire

Is the Department of Health (DOH) saying independent group Octa Research contributes to the country’s problem on infodemic?

At the continuation of the House good government and public accountability’s probe into Octa Research, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire was asked by committee chairman Michael Aglipay if the group was confusing the public at times for its pandemic forecasts and projections.

“Yes, Mr. Chair. Actually, it has added to our tasks. We need to make explanations every time they release reports. I’m friends with Dr. Ranjit, Father Nic. We have this kind of collegial relationship… However, we, in the government, we all know that we’re not just battling cases, we’re also battling infodemic,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The health spokesperson said the DOH needed to explain to the public the projections and statements made by Octa, which according to her, was an added burden the government had to shoulder.

“It adds on the burden sa trabaho ng gobyerno na kapag may nag pi-preempt katulad noong announcement na may surge,” she said.

(It adds on the burden to government work every time they are preempting information, like their announcement of the surge.)

Lawmakers had also questioned the authority of Octa to declare a “surge” and in tagging cities and municipalities as “epicenters” of the coronavirus.

“We have our metrics. Wine-weigh po namin at binabalanse namin (We are weighing and balancing)… Unfortunately, the announcement was done… And that really doesn’t help at all. These instances are giving us a hard time,” Vergeire said.

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‘We don’t like to suppress’

Vergeire said that they don’t want to suppress Octa and that they are free to do their own research but there should be alignment with the government.

“Puwede naman as long as researches are done well. Assumptions are transparent. Sana po lahat ng projection, lahat ng systems, ilalagay sa isang lugar para aligned tayo lahat,” she explained.

(They can do their research as long as it is done well. Assumptions are transparent. We hope all projections, all systems, are coordinated so we re all aligned.)

In the same hearing, Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo said that Octa should “join forces” with the DOH’s analytics team.

“Isn’t it better that the DOH-IATF Data Analytics group and the health experts of Octa join each other? We see their interest and willingness to serve the public,” Quimbo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Currently, the Duterte government listens to the data analytics team of the DOH and also takes in insights from Octa in planning out its pandemic strategy. Both teams work separately but maintain communication with each other.

Experts, however, argued that is important for the country to have groups independent of government.

Historically, DOH analysts have been more conservative with projections, while Octa has been described by lawmakers as “alarmist” in predicting outbreaks. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.