Romualdez: We’ll overcome COVID-19

Martin Romualdez
Romualdez: If only we pool our resources together, and get our acts together, there is no doubt that we can survive and overcome the crisis that we face right now.

HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Tuesday rallied support for all the initiatives of the Duterte administration, stressing the nation is about to overcome the deadly coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) with the full backing of all leaders, sectors and the Filipino people.

Romualdez, one of the key leaders who led the recovery of Tacloban City and Region VIII from the onslaught of monster storm Yolanda in 2013, stressed this during Tuesday afternoon’s resumption of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) technical working group (TWG) meeting of the economic stimulus package cluster.

“If only we pool our resources together, and get our acts together, there is no doubt that we can survive and overcome the crisis that we face right now,” Romualdez, DCC co-chairman, pointed out in his preliminary remarks.

Last week, the Sub-Committee on Economic Stimulus and Response Package, co-headed by Rep. Joey Salceda (2nd District, Albay), chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Rep. Sharon Garin (Party-list, AAMBIS OWA) and Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo (2nd District, Marikina City) made economic response presentations and agreed to consolidate their proposals and suggestions of the resource persons into a bill to be submitted to its mother committee, the DCC.

As of posting time Tuesday, also invited to the meeting were Finance Sec. Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez III, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gov. Benjamin Diokno, Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) President Cecile Borromeo, and Social Security System (SSS) President Aurora Cruz-Ignacio.

Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, thanked Salceda, Garin, Quimbo and the economic team led by Dominguez for their proposals during the first TWG meeting that would ensure a resilient stimulus package to help President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19.

He said the battle against COVID-19 is winnable if all the country’s leaders, sectors and Filipino people would stand together.

“But what struck me most in our previous discussion was the fact that our government does not lack the resources to weather the economic and financial storm looming in our horizon. May pera ang ating gobyerno para masigurong ligtas ang lahat ng pamilyang Pilipino. Though we may need only a total of P700 billion in our survival period, we can raise P1 trillion to P1.5 trillion to implement programs and projects even for the transitional and structural stimulus phases of our proposed stimulus package,” Romualdez stressed.

“Sa pondong ito, siguradong mapapakain natin ang bawat pamilyang Pilipino. Masisiguro din natin na masigla ang ating ekonomiya at may trabaho para sa nangangailangan. Hindi lamang ngayong taon, kundi maging sa susunod na mga taon,” Romualdez explained.

“Our presentors also cited instances when we faced grave financial crises, albeit not as crippling as this one, but we still managed to get back on our feet.

Lahat ng kalamidad na naranasan natin, be it natural or man-made, nalampasan nating lahat. Hindi lamang tayo nakabangon, nakapagtayo pa tayo ng mas matibay na pundasyon para sa kinabukasan,” he stressed.

Responding to suggestions that policymakers have to choose between health or the economy, Salceda said that “it’s a mischaracterization of the tradeoff. And a short-sighted assessment of the situation, too.”

The economist-lawmaker said that “the idea that we are choosing between economic damage and health damage is misguided. We are trying to minimize both. At this rate, opening up the county and hoping that we will not have to lock it down again is wishful thinking. Let’s finish the job now, when we are already building on some successes, rather than erase those gains and then face a second wave later.”

As conditions for lifting the ECQ, Salceda, the chairman of the House committee on ways and means, proposed the following:

1. Comprehensive measures to protect at-risk and vulnerable population (population above 65 and comorbidities).

2. The pervasiveness of low-cost non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as personal hygiene, handwashing, facemasks, and social distancing. Metric: Strict compliance with social distancing, improve access to handwashing facilities for the 18% of the population with poor access to accessible and safe water supply.

3. Full protection for frontliners, including complete personal

protective equipment (PPEs), and readiness for peak capacity. Metric: 15,000 Covid-19 beds, and 4,500 mechanical ventilators; 7 days’ worth of PPE in reserve.

4. Adequate testing. No mass testing, no lifting. At least 0.22% of population tested (similar to Taiwan).

“Greater care is required in planning and implementing a pathway or pathways towards recovery. This is why our efforts should strengthen over time, and modifications should not amount to an easing of our efforts in the aggregate, but rather a recalibration towards more efficiency and effectiveness, based on science and fact,” Salceda said.

Earlier, Salceda said the National Task Force (NTF) should recommend the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for another two weeks.

He said “it would be willful neglect to say that the country can now reopen”

Salceda cited quantitative and scientific evidence which suggest that the Philippines is not yet in what he called “a point of justified confidence” when it comes to fighting COVID-19.

“We’re simply not there yet, no matter how much we wish this pandemic to end. It would be almost willful neglect to say that the country can now reopen,” Salceda said.

“So far, we have undertaken around 46,000 tests, with possibly another 80,000 coming by April 30. Thus, with only 130,000 tests or 0.1% of population, we are most possibly missing many positive especially asymptomatic cases that are undetected and at large. As of April 16, out of 5,660 confirmed cases, only 3,238 were assessed, out of 7,496 possible close contacts. Doubling time for infections hovers at just above 12 days. Thus, lifting the ECQ amounts to carelessly exposing the entire population to infection, no matter what residual social distancing.” Salceda wrote in his recent paper on the ECQ extension.

Citing a statistical model in his note, Salceda said that “Every day, there are about 1.9 billion social contacts in the Philippines, and the ECQ despite all the rule breakers must have eliminated 80% or a reduction of 1.5 billion.”