Senators over the weekend called on the Duterte administration to get its act together as the Philippines was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the country with the fastest-growing number of new coronavirus cases in the Western Pacific region.

In separate statements released Sunday, senators questioned the Department of Health (DOH) and the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF)’s management of the pandemic after the WHO report was released.

“IATF must address the health protocols and programs being done by the DOH. Something is very wrong!” Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said.

“I think it’s the delay in actions and responses. That includes contact tracing and aggressive research on medications,” he added.

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said this is the WHO’s “diplomatic” way of informing the Philippines that it is “failing” in the region in managing the pandemic.

“Yan ang diplomatic na paraan ng pagsabi na tayo sa Pilipinas ang pinakamalala sa buong Western Pacific region. Yan ang pagbubukod tangi ng Pilipinas: pinakapalpak na pagtugon sa pandemya,” he said.

“Nakakahiya sana sa mga kapit-bansa, pero mas nakakahiya sa kapwa Pilipino, sa mga doktor at nars at med tech at lahat ng nagbuwis at nagbubuwis ng buhay para masugpo ang sakit. Sa lahat ng sumunod at sumusunod sa sari-sari at madalas magulong mga guidelines tulad ng pagbubukas pero walang public transport,” he added.

He added that the management of the pandemic couldn’t be achieved through a military solution or a signature campaign to revise the Constitution and federalism, but through mass testing and contact tracing.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, for his part, blasted the DOH for “mishandling” the crisis.

“That said, in spite of the DOH’s shortcomings, further worsened by the president’s almost blanket trust and confidence in [Health Secretary Francisco] Duque, the latest of which was the ridiculous theory that he is incapable of cheating on government funds since he is too  wealthy to even think of further enriching himself, still, I would like to think that the IATF is performing fairly well,” he said.

Senator Joel Villanueva, for his part, said that there was a lack in the guidance of protocols being made to curb the spread of the disease.

“There was no clear guidance on surveillance and epidemiological monitoring. The current statistics are obviously consequences of these actions,” he said.

Villanueva added that he hopes that the country has upgraded our healthcare system to properly respond to this pandemic during the past three months that Metro Manila and other parts of the country were placed in a hard lockdown to control the spread of the virus eventually shutting down the economy.

“We continue to encourage the public to stay at home, practice social distancing and only come out of their homes when necessary. We urge the government to put in place a methodologically sound epidemiological surveillance so that we can make informed decisions on our policy approach regarding COVID,” said Villanueva.

On the other hand, long-time Duterte aide, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go instead reminds the public to follow safety protocols placed by the IATF to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Kung susunod po tayo sa mga patakaran at patuloy tayong magtutulungan para maiwasan ang pagkalat ng sakit, kung mas maisasaayos rin ang ating health facilities and capabilities — ito po ang mga tanging makakapagsabi kung kailan natin malalampasan at tuluyang matapos ang krisis na dulot ng COVID-19,” he said in statement.

Go, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, pushed for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program (BP2) which was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in May.

The program aimed to decongest Metro Manila by encouraging the public to head back to provinces by providing benefits. However, most new confirmed COVID-19 cases, such as in Baybay City in Leyte, were traced back to those who were sent back to the provinces under Go’s BP2 program.

The BP2 has since been suspended.

“Habang tumataas ang kaso ng COVID-19, mas tumataas rin dapat ang quarantine, contact tracing, at necessary treatment capabilities natin,” said Go.

“Sa anumang mga hakbang na gagawin ng gobyerno at pati ng mga ordinaryong mamamayan, palagi nating unahin ang buhay at kapakanan ng kapwa nating Pilipino,” he added.

Go, who is always seen with the president during the IATF briefings, did not say how the government shall accomplish his suggestions.  (Rommel F. Lopez)