MANILA - The government should be proactive in the face of a global rise in COVID-19 cases, most presidential hopefuls said on Saturday.
Authorities should improve research and development, prevent food shortages, and provide the health sector with enough budget, said labor Leody De Guzman said during the presidential debate organized by the Commission on Elections.
"Gawin nating malusog ang ating mga kababayan nang sa ganoon ay magkaroon siya ng lakas ng katawan na labanan ang ano mang virus na dumarating," he said.
"Then, maglaan tayo ng sapat na budget sa ating sektor ng kalusugan at ‘yung ating mga health workers i-provide natin ‘yung kanilang mga pangangailangan at dagdag na mga personnel."
(Let us make our compatriots healthy so that they are strong enough to fight any virus. Let us allot enough budget to the health sector so we can provide their needs and hire more personnel.)
(Let's keep our countrymen nourished so their immune system gets the boost to protect itself from the virus. Then let's allot adequate budget to our health sector and provide our frontliners with their needs to encourage them.)
Sen. Panfilo Lacson also pushed for improved research and development, noting he earlier proposed the creation of a Virology Science and Technology Institute.
"Alam niyo ba na 4 percent lang ang ating coverage para sa research and development? Pathetic," he said.
(Did you know that only 4 percent of our budget is allotted to research and development? Pathetic.)
"Institutionalize natin ang pandemic response, dapat mayroon na tayong playbook na nakahanda. 'Yan ang kulang dapat proactive tayo nag-iisip at hindi tayo nagre-react. 'Yung Universal Healthcare Act full investment na tayo diyan," added the senator.
(Let's institutionalize the pandemic response. We should prepare a playbook. That's what we lack, we should be proactive in thinking, and not just react. We should fully invest in the Universal Healthcare Act.)
For Vice President Leni Robredo and former defense secretary Norberto Gonzales, vaccine coverage should be raised to prevent another surge.
Robredo noted the Philippines was around 13 million short of its initial target of vaccinating 77 million Filipinos.
"Ang una kong gagawin sisigurdauhin ko na maabot natin ang targets natin at lagpasan pa," she said.
(The first thing I will do is to ensure that we will reach our targets and exceed them.)
Gonzales added pandemic "profiteering" should be addressed.
"Ang pandemic ay suliranin ng daigdig, hindi lang ng Pilipinas. Dapat pumunta tayo sa United Nations, sabihin natin: 'Bakit ang gamot sa pandemya ay ginagawang negosyo?'" he said.
(The pandemic is a worldwide challenge, not just the Philippines. We should go to the United Nations and ask: 'Why was the pandemic turned into a business.)
For Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, the government should focus on business recovery, while providing added accessibility to healthcare facilities. He said he would use remaining funds from stimulus packages Bayanihan 1 and 2 to procure health equipment.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao said contact-tracing should be strengthened.
"For the meantime, siguro isarado natin 'yung mga borders natin (perhaps let us close our borders)," he also suggested.
Cardiologist Jose Montemayor Jr. also pushed more more aggressive tracing and testing. However, he rejected calls on mandatory vaccination.
"Do not force it to people. That is a violation of the constitutional rights," he said.
He also called for the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 to be scrapped, claiming it was headed by lawyers.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III heads the task force. It was previously co-chaired by Karlo Nograles, until he resigned as Cabinet secretary to head the Civil Service Commission earlier this month.
"I have to correct Montemayor: IATF is also composed of medical frontliners and specialists in healthcare" Domagoso said.
Pacquiao meanwhile said the task force needed additional guidance. If necessary, it should also kick out some members, he said.
Lastly, Faisal Mangondato batted for higher focus on cures against COVID-19.
A tenth candidate, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. skipped the debate.
After more than a month of decline, COVID cases started to increase around the world last week, the World Health Organization said.
A combination of factors was causing the increases, including the highly transmissible omicron variant and its cousin the BA.2 sub-variant, and the lifting of public health and social measures, the WHO said.
The omicron variant in January also drove a surge in infections in the Philippines. Cases have since declined, allowing Metro Manila and 47 other areas to shift to the loosest pandemic alert level.
But a WHO official last week said Filipinos should stay vigilant against another "inevitable" spike in COVID-19 cases.
— With a report from Reuters