MANILA—Vice presidential candidates on Sunday criticized the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with one of them describing the Duterte administration's performance as "dismal" and that infection and death rates could have been reduced by half.
Labor leader Walden Bello said the government's approach should have been "participatory" by giving priority to the opinion of the medical community.
"According to some people that I have consulted, had the government had a better approach, hindi militaristic, the infection rates could have been reduced by half and the deaths could have been also reduced by half," he said during the Commission on Elections' main debate.
"Sa tingin ko, napaka-militaristic 'yung approach, unprepared and then the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force), unfortunately was quite unprofessional in the way that it was dealing with things, ang daming corruption diyan. The whole Pharmally thing is a stain on the government," he added.
Rizalito David lamented that many people lost their jobs and the country's gross domestic product fell while the government's borrowings to finance the pandemic reached to over P1 trillion.
"P40 billion would have been enough to stop the spread of disease of the infection but the Department of Health, IATF and even President [Rodrigo] Duterte did not want to hear that, 'yun 'yung nakakalungkot dun," he said.
"Nagtapon tayo ng sandamakmak na inutang na pera. Ganun pa rin ang nangyari. Hanggang ngayon hindi tayo maka-recover," he added.
Without naming names, Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said "corrupt" and "incompetent" officials spearheading the pandemic management should have been replaced.
Meanwhile, Manny Lopez noted the country's COVID-19 response "started a bit slow but it has improved across time".
"My general prescription really is for a science-based, pragmatic and cost-effective approach to pandemic management. This must be devoid of commercialism and profit maximization, including politics," he said.
For Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, the government should try developing its manufacturing capacity for vaccines and other medical equipment.
"Para mapaghandaan na 'to at hindi na maulit kahit ano pang virus ang dumating sa atin, dapat tayo na ang nagma-manufacture ng bakuna, ng PPEs, mga syringes, mga needles, pati cotton para matigil na 'yung importation," he said.
If elected as Vice President, Carlos Serapio said he would push for more research and development.
He said only P10 million and P15 million were earmarked by Congress for research and development and big data analysis, respectively.
Meanwhile, Dr. Willie Ong expressed concern about the resurgence of COVID-19 in some parts of Asia, including South Korea and Hong Kong, due to the B-A-2 subvariant of Omicron or stealth Omicron.
To prevent the resurgence of the pandemic, he said the government should build more infectious disease hospitals and procure the Paxlovid antiviral COVID-19 pills.
COVID-19 testing, Ong said, should be free, which Pangilinan is also pushing for.
He also called for the increase of salaries of health-care workers and setting up a center for disease and control.
"'Pag nagawa natin itong 5, okay tayong mag-open. Pero mag-open tayo ng basta-basta na hindi ginagawa itong 5, e wala e babalik ulit tayo sa lockdown," Ong said.
The Philippines has reported declining number of coronavirus infections after posting record numbers in January.
On Sunday, the country recorded 577 additional COVID-19 cases, raising the tally to 3.6 million. Of the figure, 45,201 are active cases.
To date, some 64 million people have been fully vaccinated against the respiratory disease, of whom 11.2 million have received their booster shots.