MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – As the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus continues to rise, President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night, March 24, said the government is set to implement a "national action plan" to combat the deadly outbreak.
Duterte made the announcement in a taped public address, saying the plan will complement efforts of the Department of Health (DOH), the main agency addressing developments on coronavirus cases.
"The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, are now ramping up the implementation of the National Action Plan or NAP, as we speak, to reinforce the efforts of the Department of Health in containing COVID-19," Duterte said in a televised message.
In a message to reporters, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the NAP is the "overall national strategy to deal with the COVID-19 problem and its aftermath."
It is also related to a bill seeking to grant Duterte 30 special powers to address the coronavirus outbreak.
"The bill gives the President the special powers to implement the NAP in the most expeditious manner," Guevarra said.
What to expect? Details on the said plan were not disclosed as of this posting. Duterte said progress reports on the implementation of the NAP will be completed regularly.
Duterte said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will chair the group in charge of the plan, while Interior Secretary Eduardo Año will sit as its vice-chairman.
Along with the the DND and DILG, the President said the DOH and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are among the "most important departments that are now in action."
The group handling the NAP will operate alongside the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) earlier formed to combat the coronavirus. The IATF is headed by the DOH.
Why this matters. Before this announcement by Duterte, the DILG was on top of implementing the Luzon-wide lockdown and the "enhanced community quarantine" in other parts of the country that have implemented the measure to avert the spread of the virus.
On March 13, days before Metro Manila was first placed on "community quarantine," Lorenzana said the military, supervised by the DND, would take a secondary role to the police in enforcing the lockdown.
Thus far, the police, as supervised by the DILG, have been in charge, and military contingents are deployed to augment the police's presence at checkpoints.
The military has helped out by deploying vehicles and other assets to help health workers and other essential business employees in their commute, and to convey medical equipment, supplies, and aid to areas on lockdown.
With Duterte's announcement on Tuesday, the DND takes the lead, with the DILG in the secondary position.
Lorenzana, as DND chief, is chairperson of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the agency tasked to prepare and respond to calamities.
As of Tuesday, the Philippines has recorded 552 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 35 deaths and 20 recoveries.
The global death toll, meanwhile, has reached 16,961, with 6,077 of the fatalities in Italy and 3,277 in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau). The number of cases worldwide has risen to more than 386,350, with 81,171 cases in China and 63,927 cases in Italy. The virus has spread to 175 countries. – with reports from Lian Buan and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.