Robredo hits Duterte SONA: Don’t just wait for COVID-19 vaccine

Mara Cepeda

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The Vice President identifies 8 key shortcomings in the government's COVID-19 response and provides solutions to fix these problems

Vice President Leni Robredo said the Philippines will not be able to stop the crippling coronavirus pandemic if President Rodrigo Duterte’s government will just wait for a vaccine.

Robredo made the statement as she laid out a comprehensive list of suggestions on how the government can improve on its fight against COVID-19 on Wednesday, July 29, just two days after Duterte drew flak for the absence of a COVID-19 pandemic masterplan in his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA). 

“Hindi mapipigil ang pandemya kung basta mag-aabang na lang tayo ng bakuna. Kailangang maampat ang pagkalat nito sa lalong madaling panahon,” the Vice President said in a video posted on her Facebook page. 

(The pandemic won’t be stopped by just waiting for a vaccine. We need to stop its spread as soon as possible.) 

Duterte revealed during his SONA that he had pleaded to China to “prioritize” the Philippines when it develops a COVID-19 vaccine. (READ: Why Duterte shouldn’t just wait for a vaccine from China)

In his almost two-hour speech, Duterte failed to lay out a clear plan to stem the surge of COVID-19 infections and instead launched fresh tirades against oligarchs. 

In contrast, Robredo was able to determine lapses in different aspects of the government’s COVID-19 response and provide concrete ways to fix them – all under 22 minutes.

Much of the Vice President’s proposals are rooted in her consultations with  public health experts, doctors, economists, frontliners, and sectors heavily affected by the pandemic, like drivers and locally stranded individuals.

‘Everything begins with data’

The Vice President reiterated how crucial accurate data is in the next steps the Duterte administration will take in fighting an enemy as formidable as COVID-19.

“Nagsisimula ang lahat sa tamang datos, na pundasyon ng tamang desisyon. Mula dito, matutukoy ang kung sino at aling mga lugar ang dapat tutukan pagdating sa mass testing, contact tracing, at suporta sa mga komunidad at ospital,” Robredo said. 

(Everything begins with data, which is the foundation of sound decisions. From here, we can then determine who and what are the places that we need to focus on for mass testing, contact tracing, and support for communities and hospitals.)

“Kung magiging tama ang tugon sa aspekto ng health care, mako-control ang community transmission, magiging mas mabilis, ligtas, at strategic ang pagbubukas ng ekonomiya, maiiwasan ang pagkawala ng trabaho, at hindi na dadami pa ang dadanas ng kahirapan,” she added. 

(If we respond well in the aspect of health care, then we can control community transmission, make the reopening of the economy faster, safer, and more strategic, and we can avoid job losses and a scenario wherein people are further sinking into poverty.)

Robredo had already outlined some of these suggestions way back on June 30, when she sent a letter to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque after the latter said they are open to the Vice President’s proposed solutions to the health crisis. (READ: Robredo’s suggestions to Duterte admin: Ways to improve fight vs coronavirus)

8 suggested ways to fix lapses

The Vice President identified 8 key shortcomings in the Duterte administration’s ongoing response to the pandemic and provided solutions to fix these problems.

Problem 1: COVID-19 data riddled with errors, inconsistencies

Robredo’s solution: Different experts have devised platforms to serve as repository of COVID-19 data. The Duterte government should study which among these are the most reliable and effective, then adopt this system.

“Linisin at pabilisin ang pagkalap ng datos ukol sa COVID-19. Kung magagawa ito, magiging mas matibay ang pinagmumulan ng mga desisyon, polisiya, at programa para mapigilan ang paglaganap ng virus,” said Robredo.

(Clean up the data and hasten data-gathering methods on COVID-19. If we can do this, then we can strengthen the basis for decisions, policies, and programs aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.)

Problem 2: Slow data validation process by the Department of Health (DOH)

Robredo’s solution: The DOH can tap into universities and other academic institutions to help them validate data on COVID-19 infections. 

“Maraming gustong tumulong, pero may mga pagkukulang sa volunteer management process. Ilista ang mga handang tumulong at ang kanilang kakayahan, at agad na silang iugnay sa mga unit na nangangailangan ng tulong upang ma-maximize ang kakayahang ito,” said the Vice President

(There are a lot of people who want to help, but there are lapses in the volunteer management process. List down all of those who want to help, identify their capabilities, then link them to those in need to maximize this capacity.)

Robredo also suggested the Duterte government to consider pooled testing of suspected cases of COVID-19.

Halimbawa na lang, puwede nilang pag-aralan ang surveillance at pooled testing: Igugrupo ang mga tao at ite-test nang minsanan ang grupong ito. Kung nag-negative na, hindi na sila kailangang isa-isahin pa. Sa ganitong paraan, mas marami ang mate-test, pero mas makakatipid sa mga testing kit,” said the Vice President.

(For example, they can study the use of surveillance and pooled testing. Suspected cases will be grouped and tested together just once. If they test negative, they won’t have to be tested one by one anymore. This way, we can test more people and use fewer testing kits.)

Problem 3: Backlogs in releasing COVID-19 test results and slow contact tracing

Robredo’s solution: The Duterte government should determine which laboratories are recording these backlogs and move to augment their resources so the pending COVID-19 swabs can already be processed. 

The Vice President also proposes for the national government to adopt Baguio City’s effective contact tracing model and apply it to the rest of the country.

Problem 4: The plight of locally stranded individuals

Robredo’s solution: The Vice President said stranded Filipinos must undergo COVID-19 testing for free first before the government brings them back to their home provinces. Temporary shelters that follow physical distancing rules should be provided for them.

Robredo also said local government units should get the necessary support so they can provide enough cash-for-work programs for Filipinos left jobless by the pandemic.

Problem 5: Public health professionals are not being given enough space to lead the response

Robredo’s solution: The Vice President agrees with the government’s push to have a “whole-of-nation” approach in battling COVID-19. But she said this goes beyond making new positions to handle aspects of the response, as the right people should be appointed to lead this fight. 

“Maisagawa sana ito higit pa sa pagkakaroon ng mga bagong posisyon, bansag, o titulo ng mga tauhan. Ang totoong whole-of-nation approach, maayos ang pangangasiwa at kumukumpas sa iisang direksyon. Aling direksyon at sino ang kukumpas? Dapat public health professional na tunay na nakakaintindi ng problema,” said Robredo.

(May we go beyond just giving new positions and titles to officials. The true whole-of-nation approach is all about good management and a clear direction. What direction should we take and who should lead the way? Public health professionals, because they’re the ones who truly understand the problem.)

Problem 6: Efforts of the public and private sectors are not always harmonized

Robredo’s solution: The Vice President said the government should closely work with the private sector so all efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 are in sync. 

Problem 7: Overwhelmed hospitals

Robredo’s solution: Hospitals should always be the top priority, especially in terms of funding.

“Siguruhin na equitable at sistematiko ang pagbubuhos ng resources sa mga ospital para makasabay sila sa demands ng pandemya,” said the Vice President. 

(Ensure there is an equitable and systematic way of allocating resources to hospitals so they can keep up with the demands of the pandemic.)

Problem 8: Lack of support for overall well-being of frontliners

Robredo’s solution: Apart from providing frontliners with enough protective gear, the Vice President said the government should also give them access to free counseling services to protect their mental health. 

She said hazard pay should also be increased.

“Magpatupad din dapat ng sistema para hindi sila maburnout, tulad ng maayos na proseso ng pagrelyebo. Sang-ayon din tayo na dapat maging mas makatarungan ang pasahod sa kanila lalo na sa panahong ganito,” said the Vice President. 

(Implement a system to help protect frontliners from burnout, like setting up a process for relievers. We also agree that their salaries need to be increased in a time like this.) –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.