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FACT CHECK: Senate Bill 1869 won’t remove Filipinos’ rights to their health

Mari-An C. Santos

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FACT CHECK: Senate Bill 1869 won’t remove Filipinos’ rights to their health
The health department says the proposed measure, which seeks to establish a Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control, will prepare the country for future public health threats

Claim: Senate Bill 1869 providing for a Center for Disease Prevention and Control will lead to a “medical martial law” that threatens Filipinos’ rights to health, security, and privacy.

Rating: FALSE

Why we fact-checked this: The Facebook post, which has over 1,600 reactions and 2,000 shares, rehashes a similar claim previously fact checked by Rappler on House Bill 6522, the lower chamber’s version of the measure.

The Facebook post also includes a link to a Change.org petition against the bill for people to add their signatures. The petition has 11,148 signatures as of writing.

The facts: Senate Bill 1869 seeks to establish a Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) in the Philippines and empowers health officials to enforce public health measures, although provisions in the proposed law specify conditions for exercising these powers.

Health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said that the bill will fill the gaps in health crisis response and will prepare the country for future pandemics or threats to public health. “Nowhere can you find within this CDC draft bill any provision that will state we’re going to have a medical martial law,” Vergeire said.

Conditions: The Facebook post claims that Senate Bill 1869 threatens privacy and security by allowing the government to track people’s location. Article V, Sec. 13(f) states that in case of public health emergencies, the National Telecommunications Commission shall provide the location of patients suspected of contracting a disease upon request of the CDC, “provided that the CDC ensures confidentiality of such information.”

The post also says that the proposed law would empower authorities to mandate Filipinos to go for treatment or quarantine. Under Article V, Sec. 13 (g)(5), the health secretary may “promote treatment, vaccination, or immunization against a contagious disease, [compel] the isolation or quarantine of persons who are unable or unwilling, for reasons of health, religion, or conscience, to undergo immunization or treatment,” provided that the guidelines for exercising this power “shall be formulated with the Department of Justice.”

Functions of the CDC: The CDC would be the “technical authority on forecasting, analysis, strategy, and standards development for the prevention and control of all diseases of public health importance and health security events, whether domestic or international in origin.” 

Article III, Section 6 of the measure lists the functions of the proposed CDC:

  • Develop strategies, standards, and policies for disease prevention and control
  • Implement disease surveillance and field epidemiology activities
  • Perform data collection and analytics
  • Establish and strengthen public health laboratories
  • Recommend actions for public health threats to appropriate national government bodies
  • Lead public health and risk communications
  • Conduct and manage health research and evidence synthesis
  • Build local capacity for surveillance and health research
  • Promote scientific integrity by ensuring that all its products are technically accurate, scientifically and ethically sound, and useful to the government and the intended population through the institutionalization of appropriate mechanisms and bodies

Status of the measure: Senate Bill 1869 is currently pending on second reading. Last March, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. certified the bill as urgent. – Rappler.com

Mari-An Santos is an Aries Rufo Journalism Fellow.

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