As the country reels from the rising coronavirus cases, 11 individuals led by former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo filed at the Supreme Court on Friday, July 3, a petition seeking to compel the Duterte government to conduct mass testing.
Aided by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the group also asked the Supreme Court to constrain the government to ramp up contact tracing, improve laboratory testing capacity, and release accurate and timely information on the country’s COVID-19 situation.
The petition cited the the government’s obligation to do so under local and international laws, invoking Article II Section 15 of the Constitution which said that: “the State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.”
The petitioners likewise argued there should have been enough impetus to mount a mass testing program as the Philippines acceded to the World Health Organization’s 2005 International Health Regulations which mandated countries to build their capability to respond to pandemics.
It also mentioned the WHO Constitution which authorized the World Health Assembly to adopt laws “designed to prevent the international spread of disease.”
The petitioners cited a timeline of the government’s efforts to respond to the outbreak and said the failure to conduct “proactive and efficient” mass testing “has shown that a systemic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood or work, education, and access to justice.”
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the Philippines has lagged behind in testing and tracing efforts.
The government first opted for a testing protocol that screened only patients suspected to have the coronavirus, and were showing symptoms, or who had a history of travel. Then it mounted an “expanded testing program” that covered suspected patients, high-risk individuals, health workers, and close contacts of confirmed cases.
There are now 68 laboratories in the country equipped to conduct coronavirus tests. Despite the increase in the capacity though the number of daily samples tested has yet to reach the government’s earlier target of 30,000 daily tests by the end of May.
The labs are collectively testing an average of 14,000 to 16,000 tests as they work against operational constraints that include lack of manpower and supplies needed to process tests, among other limitations.
The Department of Health earlier said while the supply of tests kits have grown, supply levels for other materials needed to process samples such as extraction kits remain unsteady due to global shortage.
The health department has also put out a call for data mangers and encoders to aid in the management of data during the outbreak.