Lawmakers accuse Galvez, IATF of 'criminal neglect' of Mindanao

Mindanao lawmakers on Monday, June 14, took turns lashing out at what they called the national government's neglect of Mindanao during the COVID-19 pandemic, even at a time when the country's second largest island saw surges in new infections.

Instead, the national government gave priority to Metro Manila in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The harshest criticism during the meeting of the House committee on Mindanao affairs came from Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, Cagayan de Oro's 2nd district representative, who accused Presidential Adviser and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) of "criminal neglect." The task force is chaired by Duque and co-chaired by Nograles.

He said he wanted the officials to "hear our (lawmakers') contempt for them."

On several occasions, Rodriguez singled out Galvez, represented during the meeting by Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary Isidro Purisima, for allegedly ignoring Mindanao lawmakers who have been asking for more vaccines for their cities and provinces.

An increase in the vaccine allocations in areas being ravaged by COVID-19, he said, would have helped more infected people increase their fighting chances against the deadly virus.

"People (in Mindanao) died because of the inactivity of the vaccine czar (Galvez)," a furious Rodriguez said at the top of his voice. "I fault you, vaccine czar, for the deaths of my family's friends, and barangay officials (in Cagayan de Oro)!"

He said Galvez, Duque, Nograles, and the IATF were weak and slow in their response, lacked concern, and failed to prioritize cities outside the nation's capital where the number of COVID-19 cases ballooned.

Rodriguez added: "People are dying because they're still giving much of the vaccines to Metro Manila…. They have not seen the urgency in Mindanao.… We are completely out. They decide based on their own sweet time, neglecting Mindanao, and concentrating only on Metro Manila. My goodness! How can you restore the lives of those who died?"

He said he wrote to the IATF and Galvez on May 15 and May 22 to ask that they send more vaccines to Cagayan de Oro and other Mindanao areas that registered sharp increases in COVID-19 cases, but there was no response.

Rodriguez asked Purisima: "Why have you not answered? What are you doing? Tell me."

Purisima apologized to the committee on behalf of Galvez, and assured the lawmakers that Mindanao's vaccine supplies would be increased starting June.

He said the government expects to receive as much as 35 million doses from June to August, but he did not say exactly how many would be sent to Mindanao.

"There was a shortage (in vaccine supplies) during the last week of May and the first week of June," Purisima told the committee.

Another deputy speaker, Representative Henry Oaminal of Misamis Occidental's 2nd district, said he noted that neither Purisima nor Department of Health (DOH) representatives could say exactly how many vaccine doses they planned to set aside for Mindanao.

"How much are for Mindanao?" asked Oaminal.

Representative Sergio Dagooc of the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives party list said he was dismayed because there were "no clear numbers for Mindanao," and because it appeared to him that Mindanaoans have taken the backseat.

Dagooc said, "I agree with Deputy Speaker Rodriguez that we, Mindanaoans, are still being treated like second-class citizens."

He said he understood that the National Capital Region deserves government attention because damage to the region's economy would have a domino effect throughout the country, but "what good would an economy be if there are no more people left?"

The committee's chairman, Lanao del Norte 1st District Representative Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, said he and other Mindanao congressmen felt and shared Rodriguez's sentiments. – Rappler.com