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Rio says 'gatekeepers' in IATF to blame for virus spike

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr blamed the failed contact tracing system of the government, ushered in by certain "gatekeepers," for the rise in coronavirus cases.

In a Facebook post, Rio posted screenshots of his conversation with an unnamed IATF official in May, on the rejected IT system on contact tracing.

The proposed system would pull in data from multiple contact tracing apps which could be analyzed in real-time. It would have been built for free and would receive support from the United Nations Development Program.

As seen on the screenshots, the unnamed official said the UNDP dashboard proposal has to be approved by the IATF's sub-technical working group on information and communications technology (ICT), which was headed by Assistant Secretary Manny Caintic.

Rio said that proposed system would have been ready for June 1, when Metro Manila, the epicenter of the outbreak, relaxed quarantine restrictions.

Yet the government inked a partnership with Multisys Technologies Corporation led by CEO David Almirol Jr, who has links to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. It developed the StaySafe app.

The IATF had also issued Resolution No. 36 which declared that the ICT system for coronavirus efforts is now "complete and closed."

"It is clear that Resolution #36 – which closed the IATF ICT system by allowing only favored providers and preventing contributions from other IT, medical, economic experts and data analysts – is the main cause why we have now a runaway pandemic and economic crisis," Rio said.

Rio attributed the rising cases to the government's failure to strengthen contact tracing, which he called as the "weakest link" among the 3 Ts approach of the pandemic czars – testing, tracing, and treating.

"The proposal never got past the gatekeeper. It was Caintic’s idea that prevailed and which, as we know now, did not work in bringing down or addressing the pandemic curve," Rio said.

"Unfortunately, the gatekeepers in IATF never considered it, and we are now suffering the consequences," Rio said.

Still ignored

The former DICT undersecretary said the IATF continued to ignore proposals from those who want to help the government's efforts on contact tracing.

"The reason I am bringing this up is that even now, the gatekeepers in the IATF are still preventing the contributions of talented groups and individuals and meant to address our worsening pandemic," said Rio on why he chose to speak out now.

Rio told Rappler that their group, COVID-19 Central Advocacy Group, proposed a system which would be built by a group of information technology experts – for free – and the UNDP, again, is willing to extend financial support to the government.

Rio explained that the proposed system would allow the use of multiple apps, including StaySafe.

"Until now StaySafe is not effective in contact tracing alone. And that is the problem – the unreasoned bias for StaySafe – when in fact it was given an ultimatum by [IATF Resolution] 45 to comply with some requirements like donating it to the government and were given up to July 10 to comply but StaySafe didn’t. [A]s if nothing happened. And the gatekeeper of the ICT system is Caintic," he told Rappler.

"If the system is good, we should have flattened the pandemic curve like our neighboring countries. The system that I was planning by June 1 was for that purpose. That did not happen and we have this big problem. So we are trying to propose remedial measures but we are being ignored," he said.

Rappler reached out for Caintic's comment but he has yet to respond as of posting.

In late May, President Rodrigo Duterte had accepted Rio's resignation which he had submitted in January, after the supposed disagreements over the contact tracing app.

Rio suspected that Esperon has something to do with his removal. Esperon denied having a hand in this. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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