Duterte admits lapses in COVID-19 response

President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged in his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 27, that there were lapses in the implementation of assistance to families affected by the lockdown and other aspects of the COVID-19 response.

“Admittedly, our implementation of the Social Amelioration Program was not perfect,” Duterte said. “And some opportunists turned crisis into opportunity. We will catch up with you sooner than you think.” 

At least 155 barangay officials face criminal complaints for cash distribution for families affected by the pandemic. 

Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año admitted in June that families of these officials may have gotten their hands on some of the P100 billion in cash aid distributed to families across the country.

“When the pandemic struck, I decided to prioritize life over other considerations,” Duterte said.

However, in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines, Duterte downplayed the contagion, saying that it would just die an “early death.”

Kagaya ng (Like) SARS, I assure you even without the vaccines it will just die a natural death. Apparently, itong mga ganito, mga virus, ano ’to HIV, wala – nawala na. Meron, kokonti na lang (viruses like this, like HIV, it’s gone, there are only a few cases now),” Duterte said during a media briefing on February 3. (READ: FALSE: Duterte warned about coronavirus threat 'at the start')

“According to experts, the interventions that the government had put in place prevented as much as 1.3 to 3.5 million infections. To me, even if the numbers were much lower, it would still be and would have been worth the sacrifice[s] we made. Buhay muna, bago ang lahat (Life before anything),” he said.

Duterte did not say which experts provided the data that 1.3 to 3.5 million infections were prevented due to government actions.

Duterte also admitted having difficulty increasing testing capacity in the beginning: “We initially encountered difficulties ramping up our testing capacity. We now have 93 accredited testing laboratories nationwide, and we are aiming to conduct 1.4 million tests by [the] end of July and ensure a quick turnaround time of 48 to 72 hours.”

As of July 19, tests were conducted at full scale in 67 laboratories nationwide and in 23 labs using Gene Xpert. At least 91 other laboratories are being prepared to handle tests. (READ: Where are testing centers for coronavirus in PH?)

Duterte highlighted the increased testing capacity and the national government's support of the local government units in fighting COVID-19 as among his achievements in responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

He also said that an executive order freezing the prices of 133 prescription drugs and a retail price review of other drugs "proved to be providential" during this pandemic.

Duterte asked Congress to pass a law instituting the National Disease Prevention and Management Authority to “better prepare” for other pandemics. 

“We are counting on the full support of Congress for this critical important endeavor,” he said. “I don’t know, but I leave it to Congress.... It’s another department. It can be a multilayer redundant thing between health and the proposed department,” he said in his SONA.

Duterte largely hinged the end of the pandemic on a vaccine and said he would ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to prioritize the Philippines when it develops such a vaccine.

But he also asked Congress to pass the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act not only for funds for COVID-19 response, but to aid in the economic recovery of the Philippines.

"May I again reiterate my thanks to you, the men and women of Congress, for the effort you invested into passing that law," Duterte said. "I hope that we can get some or the same treatment of clarity, purpose, and the fastness [applause] to support the passage of the Bayanihan [to Recover as One Act], which will supplement funds for recovery and response against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," Duterte said.

The Philippines reported  82,040 cases of COVID-19 on the day of Duterte’s SONA. This includes 1,945 deaths and 26, 446 recoveries.

University of the Philippines researchers projected that the country would hit 85,000 cases by July 31. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz/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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