Speaker: Speak with one voice

Alan Peter Cayetano

SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano has urged members of Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to speak with “one voice” and deliver clear message when they communicate and disseminate vital information pertaining to the COVID-19 issues and concerns to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.

“First and foremost, since empowered na kayo lahat ng ating Pangulo, ang request ko po ay to “speak with one voice.” Uulitin ko po, ha, we speak with one voice. Ibig-sabihin, hindi po pwede na different members of the Task Force, iba po ang sasabihin,” said Cayetano on his Facebook Live post.

“I know that’s not the intention, and I know, sometimes, tricky ‘yung media kasi, ‘pag nagtanong, ‘pag nagkaroon ng clarification, ‘yung context minsan, lalo kung tweet pa lang ‘yun o kung nasa online na hindi kumpleto, kung hindi naman ‘yung buong video, minsan nami-misinterpret,” he added.

Citing the differing statements of Interior Sec. Eduardo Año and Health Sec. Francisco Duque III with regard to the issue on whether the enhanced community quarantine will be extended or not, he underscored the need to have unified stance among the members of the IATF so as not to confuse the listening public.

Cayetano said that he understood that the two Secretaries were expressing their opinions in relation to their duties, one on law enforcement and another on health concern but stressed that these matters should be agreed first by the members of the IATF.

“Hindi naman pwede na kung may 15 members ng Task Force, 15 ang opinion. Malilito talaga ang mga tao, at ‘pag nalito ang tao, akala nila nalilito din ang gobyerno. But I’m very confident that, hindi naman ‘yan ang ibig niyong sabihin,” he continued.

He also cited that importance of clarity and simplicity of delivering messages especially during crisis situations to avoid unnecessary miscommunication problems among the various agencies.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares claimed President Duterte’s report  to Congress was allegedly “deliberately cluttered with unnecessary  details to mislead  and hide the government’s incompetence and the lack of comprehensive and coherent plan” in the fight against  the dreaded virus.

They demanded instead for the immediate release of funds since these were there all along as admitted by the report.

“The Report is full of unnecessary items that only clutter it, to hide the inefficiency and incompetence of the Duterte administration in responding to the crisis. It is 100% hogwash,” said Colmenares after having read the report of President Duterte.

Under “Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469, Section 5 provides that he will present to Congress a report on “all acts performed pursuant to this Act” and the funds utilized “pursuant to this Act”.

“Yet he cluttered the entire report with acts already taken not in pursuance of the exercise of his emergency powers, because the acts reported could be done even without emergency powers,” said Colmenares.

“It even contained a report that NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is preparing to file cases against profiteers, price fixers and hoarders, when the NBI has long been doing this because the Revised Penal Code and special laws already prohibit hoarding and profiteering.  In fact, many of the actions reported were already underway long before RA 11469 became effective, such as the resetting of deadlines for filing of ITRs by the BIR and payment moratorium by PAGIBIG fund,” he added.

"It is as if these reports were just inserted to make it look comprehensive and hide the inability of government to perform the most important task—providing immediate relief to the people especially the poor who have lost their livelihood because of the quarantine. Actions, such as buying test kits, thermal scanner, preparing protocols, should have been done in January or February if only Pres.

Duterte prepared for COVID 19. The fact that the Duterte administration waited for emergency powers to do these only worsens our fears about its competence to meet the epidemic," said the progressive leader.

Colmenares added that the supposed funds for the LGUs were actually taken from funds for the very same LGUs already contained in the 2020 budget.

“The government was roundly criticized by LGUs because President Duterte downloaded the problem and the responsibility to the LGUs and barangays without providing appropriate funding to sustain these—practically setting up the LGUs to be blamed by the people once they failed to deliver the impossible—sustained relief operations to everyone affected by the quarantine.

The solution of Pres. Duterte, however, was to prepare an initial master list of all unreleased appropriations under the SPFs (special purpose funds estimated at P372.719 billion),” said Colmenares.

For his part, Zarate claimed the report has actually admitted what Bayan Muna has been saying all along, that there are ready funds for allocation but the Duterte administration failed to allocate them.

“In a time when we demand action, the report still contained reference to guidelines being drafted, circulars being studied, coordination to be implemented and worse, facilitating the coordination to be implemented—all of which is not only red tape in the midst of corona, but also, do not even need emergency powers to be undertaken,” said Zarate.

“Kung kaylan kinakailangan natin ang mabilisang solusyon, dito naman nag speed bagal si President Duterte. There have been lockdowns in many countries in January and February.  President Duterte could have anticipated the possible lockdown in the Philippines as early as February and prepared the data base for distribution of subsidies to poor families.  But they waited for emergency powers just to prepare the list of recipients of the subsidy.

This delay, lack of preparation and even gross inefficiency are unacceptable and show the government’s insensitivity to the plight of the poor.  Imagine, nagugutom na ang tao tapos sabihin ng President, teka teka, hinahanda pa ang data base," said Zarate.

“If President Duterte needs emergency powers to conduct studies, then we are in a lot of trouble,” said Zarate.

“What is frustrating is that President Duterte now admits what we have been saying all along—that there are existing funds such as QRF (Quick Response Fund), Assistance to Indigent Patients, 2019 savings and released appropriations that can be immediately used.  But President Duterte, including his economic managers and allies, refused to heed our call and to allocate these specified funds that are often used as pork barrel anyway.  Instead they wasted time in drafting and deliberating emergency powers which would allow him to tinker with the budget as his lump sum discretionary fund even if this was not necessary," Zarate pointed out.

Meanwhile, Cayetano also called on the Department of Health (DOH) to clarify their public health strategy including their logistical distribution plan to help capacitate our public and private hospitals that are treating coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) patients. He cautioned the DOH officials that it is not enough to say that the agency is procuring almost P2 billion worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

To allay the apprehensions of the public, he suggested to DOH that they need to give a more comprehensive picture on the current supply and demand situation given the increasing COVID-19 cases. He asked DOH to be transparent on the number of available hospital beds in the country and how it will be addressed as well as about the number of the PPEs which will be delivered to the hospitals and how long these procured items will last.

While the DOH is providing daily updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and the hospitals where the patients afflicted by the disease are confined, there has been limited information on how the necessary supplies procured or to be procured are being distributed nationwide.

“So it's not enough to just say "2 billion, binibili namin" hindi, tell us the number of the hospitals per region, ilang beds 'yan, ilan ang ide-deliver niyo and then i-communicate niyo 'yan sa mga ospital para sila mismo kapag humingi sila sa tao or sinabing kulang, they can say what they meant by "kulang ito," he said.

Kailangan very clear ang ating public health strategy, so very clear naman sa lahat na stay home para hindi maghawaan.Ang kulang kasi sa sinasabi ng DOH natin, ilan ba ang ospital natin? Ilan bang beds? Paano niyo ba kino-compute ang PPEs? Mako-compute mo 'yung kailangan na PPE base sa ilan ang hospital bed capacity. Ganon din ang beds, mako-compute niyo sa kung ano ang projection niyo, kung ano 'yung peak ng mai-infect at ilan ang maho-hospitalize 'di ba?,” he asked.

While the Speaker recognizes the overwhelming task that they need to do as a department as well as the hardwork and professionalism that their officials have exhibited, Cayetano advised the department to deliver their message with “simplicity and clarity.”

“With the passage of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, we can make these medical supplies widely accessible to our health workers and medical professionals especially to allow them to better perform their tasks,” said Cayetano.