DOH to shake up pandemic task force amid abolition calls

Bonz Magsambol

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DOH to shake up pandemic task force amid abolition calls

VACCINATION DRIVE. Residents receive a vaccine dose in Cebu City.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

Experts have long urged the government to abolish the IATF-EID, criticizing its disjointed structure
DOH to shake up pandemic task force amid abolition calls

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) is set to shake up the structure of the Philippines’ pandemic task force, the IATF-EID, in the face of calls to abolish it even before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office.

The DOH said it would be “reconstituting” the member agencies of the IATF-EID, or the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, to only retain those with “relevant and intended functions.”

The plan to reorganize the IATF was discussed by DOH officer-in-charge (OIC) Maria Rosario Vergeire during their Cabinet meeting with Marcos on Monday, July 18.

Why it matters

Experts have long called for the abolition of the IATF-EID, criticizing its disjointed structure. During the time of then-president Rodrigo Duterte, for example, the task force regularly consulted with mayors, businessmen, and doctors to produce a set of recommendations, only for Duterte to overturn them almost at whim.

In 2021, lawmakers already urged Duterte to remove the members of the IATF and replace them with public health experts and business leaders. Duterte did not act on their appeals.

Specific example: Replacing NTF

Vergeire said the DOH will also eventually replace the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF), the group in charge of implementing recommendations by the IATF-EID. She said they will instead use as “platform” the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the Philippines’ 12-year-old disaster agency.

“The platform will replace the NTF to integrate it with the regular processes. This will allow the IATF health expert groups to continue their work as they serve as the voice of science in the country,” Malacañang said in a statement.

Malacañang added that the DOH will also streamline IATF meetings and processes “with clear directives to assist in safe reopening and will be utilizing the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council platform.”

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The move to streamline IATF comes as the country deals with a fresh surge in infections driven by the highly infectious subvariants of Omicron. Despite the rise in cases, the entire Philippines remains low risk for COVID-19.

More changes to come

Marcos also agreed to retain the COVID-19 alert level system for now even as he sought to reclassify restrictions that are compatible with the current milder variants that infect patients.   

“To avoid confusion, we will retain the alert level system for now. We are however thinking, we are studying very closely, and we’ll come to a decision very soon as to decoupling the restrictions from the alert levels,” Vergeire said. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.