Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: March 23, 2020 06:24 AM GMT
People take advantage of free rides offered by the military to help them get home as public transport has been banned as part of a community quarantine order by the government during the Covid-19 lockdown in Manila. (Photo: Maria Tan)
Two members of the Philippines’ Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), an agency under the Department of Health (DOH), have revealed a list containing the names of dozens of high-ranking government officials tested for Covid-19 despite a lack of testing kits in provinces and major hospitals.
At least 34 senior officials, including their family members, were on the list released on March 22, sparking public outrage.
One institute staff member posted on social media that government officials “sent their [swab] samples to the RITM with instructions to prioritize them despite DOH guidelines stating that one should not be tested if he or she is asymptomatic [not showing Covid-19 symptoms].”
The revelation followed the death of a 34-year-old cardiologist whose Covid-19 test results were delayed for four days due to a “lack of availability” of testing kits.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, his common-law-wife and his daughter are on the list, as are senators, cabinet secretaries and non-government officials.
Publication of the list triggered an outcry and accusations of preferential treatment.
“We need more than 200,000 test kits in one province alone. Prior to the lockdown, more than 500,000 people left Manila to go back to their respective provinces. If one of them is Covid-19 positive, how will that province respond? They do not even have test kits,” said a doctor who wished to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Congress was to hold a special session today granting Duterte more powers to access a 200 billion peso (US$3.8 billion) fund reserved for national calamities and to “temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affecting the public interest to be used in addressing the needs of the public during the Covid-19 emergency as determined by the president.”
Although still a draft, legal experts have already raised concerns about the president’s “overly broad” powers.
“There is no check on who determines and what criteria are to be used in taking over private businesses. This will lead to abuse,” said a lawyer speaking on condition of anonymity.
“If government officials put themselves first when it comes to testing kits, even if they are not showing Covid-19 symptoms, how can we trust them with granting the president more powers?” Melanie Fajardo, a nurse, told UCA News.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued revised guidelines at the weekend for bishops and priests to follow during the celebration of Holy Week under strict community quarantines.
The bishops said Catholics observing Masses online or on TV can hold palm leaves. “For those who follow the celebration on TV, there is no need for holy water to bless palm leaves,” according to the circular.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.