MANILA — Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines denied Wednesday Health Secretary Francisco Duque's accusation that they refused to help authorities trace nearly 300 co-passengers of the Philippines' confirmed coronavirus cases.
Duque told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday that only 17 percent of the co-passengers were contacted so far because their details were not shared by the 2 airlines, "invoking confidentiality."
There is "no impediment" under Data Privacy Act that prevents airlines from sharing the manifest that contains the passengers' contact details, said Cebu Pacific director for Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs Charo Logarta-Lagamon.
"Never po kaming hindi nakipagtulungan sa gobyerno, lalo na po sa Department of Health," she told DZMM.
(We never refused to cooperate with the government, especially with the Department of Health.)
The country's largest carrier, she said, reached out to 30 to 40 percent of more than 200 passengers on board 2 of the flights that the coronavirus patients took.
Philippine Airlines shared its passenger manifest with authorities "right after" the health department's request, said the carrier's spokesperson Cielo Villaluna.
"This is an issue of national interest, this is a public health concern. There is no reason for you national flag carrier, Philippine Airline, to withhold such information," she said.
Duque's claim that parts of the manifest were redacted "can be an issue of lack of dissemination on their part," said Villaluna.
"What Secretary Duque is saying is not quite aligned with what is happening, but I hope by this time, he's already informed of the truth," she said in a separate DZMM interview.
From Jan. 31, PAL contacted 75 of the 122 patients' fellow passengers, Villaluna said.
The 2 patients -- a woman and her male companion -- were from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected. From Wuhan, they took flights to Hong Kong, Cebu and Dumaguete, before arriving in Manila on Jan. 21, Duque earlier said.
The 44-year-old male patient died after showing signs of improvement, making him the first virus fatality outside China, authorities said over the weekend.
The new coronavirus strain has killed nearly 500 people, infected some 24,000 since it was first reported in Wuhan in late December 2019.
Earlier this week, the Philippines banned travel to and from mainland China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau as health experts have yet to find a cure.
A local carrier is ironing plans with authorities to bring home Filipinos who may be stranded in China "hopefully in the next few days", said Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Ed Monreal.