Some Philippine senators to undergo COVID-19 testing after one got infected

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2020 08:05 PM | Updated as of Mar 18 2020 03:09 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - Some Philippine senators who did not yet undergo tests for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have been scheduled for swabbing this week, their two colleagues who already underwent the procedure said Tuesday.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III directed all senators to submit themselves for COVID-19 testing after Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri tested positive, albeit asymptomatic, for the disease, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian told ABS-CBN News.

“Sabi ni Senate President kahapon, 'Magpa-test na tayong lahat para sigurado.' All the senators will test today... dahil hindi na natin to puwedeng basta iwan by chance,” Gatchalian said in a Skype interview.

(The senate President said yesterday that we should all take the test just to be sure. All the senators will test today... because we cannot just leave this to chance.)

Sotto gave the directive after realizing that an asymptomatic person can still be a carrier of the virus, Zubiri said in a separate interview.

Prior to the disclosure of Zubiri's positive test result on Monday, a resource person in one of the senate's recent hearings was also found positive for COVID-19.

“Initially, they all decided to self-quarantine... [pero] baka meron ding mga senador diyan na matibay lang talaga at very healthy na could be possible carrier,” said Zubiri, who is already in isolation.

(But there may be some senators who, despite being very healthy, could be possible carrier.)

The senators who took the COVID-19 test in the Senate President's office on Tuesday were Sotto, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Imee Marcos, Bong Revilla and Francis Tolentino. They were also joined by Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Rene Samonte.

Senators Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and Richard Gordon reportedly took the test in a separate venue.

Last week, Senators Gatchalian, Nancy Binay and Christopher "Bong" Go already tested negative for COVID-19.

Minority senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros refused to undergo the procedure, citing the Department of Health's policy that only symptomatic patients should be subjected to testing due to the lack of test kits.

Other senators have yet to confirm if they are done or are still planning to take the test.

Health officials said some high-ranking government officials, including President Rodrigo Duterte's family, were able to take the test despite not having fever, cough, colds or headaches because it was administered to them before the Department of Health changed its policy on COVID-19 testing due to the limited number of test kits.

Of the current set of senators, only Sen. Leila de Lima is not holding office at the Senate building in the Manila suburb of Pasay City. De Lima, who is crying political persecution for being a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, is performing her duties while in detention inside the national police headquarters due to illegal drugs charges filed against her.

Gatchalian, who subjected himself to self-quarantine after being exposed to the COVID-19-positive resource person, said it was “agonizing” to wait the test result, which may take between 2 days and nearly a week after swabbing.

(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said "all" senators were scheduled to take the test. The story was published before we received clarifications that at least 2 senators refused to be tested for COVID-19 due to a Department of Health policy.)