THERE is a compelling need today for the Department of Health (DoH) and its overburdened Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to issue an official statement on the thorny controversy that has arisen from the irregular conduct of testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and the freestyle announcement of purported results.
We emphasize here the term “official statement” because a statement is what is needed, not a text message or a tweet.
Nowadays, public officials and agencies turn to text messages and tweets in answering questions from the media and in making public announcements. And many journalists and media organizations accept such lazy shorthand as passable substitutes for official quotes or statements.
Correction of this practice should be imperative in the fight against the pandemic because lives and public welfare are on the line.
In the virus-testing controversy, the DoH needs to report or address several matters specifically:
First, the department should report on the reported testing for Covid-19 of a majority of the republic’s senators. It should inform the public which senators actually went to the research institute for testing. It should report on the results of the tests for every senator.
At this point, the nation only knows for certain that only Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd have tested positive for the virus.
Others, like Senators Francis Tolentino and Christopher Lawrence Go, have issued unsupported and self-serving statements claiming that they have tested negative for the virus.
As for the rest, the public does not know the results of their tests. Only the DoH and RITM can clarify this matter, so it should do so promptly. Otherwise, the unsuspecting public must be warned against meeting with or even seeing their favorite senators.
Second, and relatedly, the Health department should address the gratuitous claim of Senator Go that he, together with President Rodrigo Duterte, was officially tested and that the results were negative.
We think the DoH should officially confirm or deny this claim. This is no small matter because this involves the President, no less.
Third, the DoH should officially address the accusation that some public officials, both legislative and executive, have sought VIP privileges for themselves and their families in seeking testing from the RITM.
There should be no place for VIP entitlements and other pretensions during this period of national emergency. The Health department should apply strictly its triage system in the handling of patients and requests for testing. Triage simply means that those with the greatest or most urgent need for medical attention and treatment should be given priority.
There is merit in the action of patient and medical groups to denounce Senator Pimentel and his wife for allegedly breaching quarantine protocols at the Makati Medical Center in order to get medical attention.
A network of patients’ groups slammed all government officials who were allegedly prioritized to get tested for Covid-19 despite the limited resources for testing.
The Philippine Alliance of Patients’ Organizations called those government officials “enemies of the state,” noting that test kits should be used strategically to control the spread of the virus. Its point is unassailable.
The problem will become more knotty in the coming days because more public officials will also be pressing to be tested at the RITM. There are fresh reports that some members of the House will now seek testing and undergo self-quarantine after one colleague officially tested positive for Covid-19.
With the startling statement yesterday by Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd that everyone, including the healthy, should assume that they are positive for Covid-19, there will be a stampede for places in the line of people seeking testing at the RITM.
The DoH must be at liberty to set the rules and the system for virus testing. The public must comprehend the reasons for the rules and the process. So-called VIPs must also learn to fall in line.
This is why it is so important for the Health department and the research institute to issue a full official statement on the testing controversy.