Covid-19 undertaker

April 17, 2020

Funny, but we find it rather weird, bizarre even, to task the agency for this very delicate job.

True, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority has a broad mandate -- garbage or waste collection, processing, and disposal; traffic management; and even flood control within th National Capital Region.

This much we can concede.

But are human remains now even remotely considered as garbage or waste?

And what if the cadavers belong to patients who succumbed to the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease?  

There is a special, rigorous protocol for disposing of the bodies of Covid-19 fatalities.

Is the MMDA up to the job? Does it even have basic infection-control  capabilities? Does it have public health and sanitation experts in its ranks?

We understand only too well that the Department of Health has so much on its plate right now, but we are not sure whether the MMDA is the right agency for this job.   

And yet the MMDA has been designated as the coordinating agency for the proper disposal of the remains of those who died from the Coronavirus disease 2019.

MMDA spokesperson Celine Pialago said the new designation, based on a directive from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, gives the MMDA the responsibility to coordinate between local government units, hospitals, and crematoriums to address issues such as the delayed release of death certificates, among others.

She clarified that MMDA personnel would not be responsible for the actual handling and logistics for the bodies.

“We’ll try to bridge the gap between LGUs, hospitals and crematory services. So, the MMDA will not be responsible in terms of collecting, transporting and disposing of the dead bodies na mula po sa (caused by) Covid-19,” Pialago said.

On Thursday, she said a meeting between the Department of the Interior and Local Government  and representatives of several funeral and crematory services would  tackle the actual logistics of the bodies infected with the viral respiratory disease.

“Most probably po the day after that meeting, makakapaglabas na po tayo ng (we will be able to release the) proper guidelines on how to effectively and efficiently manage the dead bodies,” Pialago said.

In the briefing, Malacanang said the MMDA would lead the disposal of the remains along with the Office of the Civil Defense.

Last week, the Metro Manila Council, led by the MMDA, urged LGUs to impose a penalty on violence and discrimination against medical workers, other front-line workers, confirmed Covid-19 patients, and other persons suspected of having the respiratory disease.

In a resolution, the MMC—composed of Metro Manila mayors and other government officials— “strongly recommended” to the 17 local legislative councils in Metro Manila to pass an ordinance to discourage discrimination against the said individuals.

Meanwhile, Sen. Nancy Binay urged the government to shoulder the cost of cremating the remains of victims of COVID-19.

Binay said one of the reasons why there are many unclaimed cadavers in the hospital is because many families do not have the financial resources to handle the cremation costs of their loved ones.

"Sa tingin ko, kayang sagutin ng gobyerno ang gastos sa cremation ng mga pamilyang mahihirap, or the government can extend assistance to families who have immensely suffered financially. Nakakalungkot na walang magawa ang mga pamilyang namatayan dahil maliban sa kailangan nilang bayaran pa ang cremation, nawalan pa sila ng trabaho, at ang mas mabigat ay nawalan sila ng mahal sa buhay,"she  said.

She  added that the Department of Health or the Department of Interior and Local Government can enter in a Memorandum of Agreement with the National Federation of Mortuary Stakeholders to ensure the proper handling of remains in hospitals, homes, and quarantine centers based on IATF guidelines.

A month after the lockdown, the DILG, DoH, MMDA the different LGUs in Metro Manila are only now discussing the "management and disposal" of the remains of COVID-19 deaths.

The lady lawmaker said that under the DSWD Revised Guidelines on AICS for burial assistance, the department would  shoulder part of the funeral cost and the family can receive up to P10,000 assistance even if they do not submit a case study report.

"Meron binibigay na P10,000 ang DSWD para sa standard burial assistance. Sa sitwasyon ng mga naulilang pamilya dahil sa COVID, maaaring lakihan ng DSWD. Yung pagsagot ng bayarin he said.

Binay also called on all LGUs to strictly monitor crematoriumss and funeral parlors in their areas to ensure that these establishments are adhering to the guidelines set by the IATF and DOH.

The senator also appealed to crematoriums and funeral parlors not to take advantage of families affected by the current pandemic.