MANILA - Some senators on Monday clarified why they opted to be tested for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as the public continued to criticize government officials who allegedly took the test despite a Department of Health (DOH) policy that only the elderly and symptomatic patients may be swabbed due to the lack of kits in the country.
Uproar from social media began after a list allegedly leaked from the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM), which processes COVID-19 tests, showed that some politicians were allowed to test for the disease despite being asymptomatic.
71-YEAR-OLD SENATE PRESIDENT
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he took 2 COVID-19 tests, but clarified that the first kit he used came from a private individual and not from the government's limited stock.
"I have been tested last March 16, 2020, Monday to ensure that I can still perform my duties and meet key people to help address the needs of our country in these trying times," Sotto said in a statement.
"My test turned out negative but since I'm manifesting dry cough and sore throat for days & due to my age & exposure to PUIS and PUMs, I took a confirmatory test [from the DOH]," the 71-year-old Senate President said.
Sotto belied allegations that he was among top politicians who asked to be prioritized ahead of medical workers who have been suffering from fever, cough, colds, and other symptoms of COVID-19.
"It's been a week now and to clarify this, I haven't received the results [for the second DOH-approved test] as I never asked to be prioritized," he said.
TOLENTINO CITES COUGH
Sen. Francis Tolentino, who earlier uploaded and eventually took down a photo which confirmed he tested negative for COVID-19, said he was a symptomatic patient.
"My colds and dry cough persisted during my self-quarantine, thus I took a test, after my self cough medication appeared insufficient after 4 days," Tolentino said in a separate statement.
"My negative result was not a DOH test. And I apologize if I undertook the same as I was likewise exposed to the persons my colleagues got in contact with during our hearings," he said.
Tolentino said he decided to post the result of his COVID-19 test "so the people who came near me would know the result whether positive or negative."
"My apologies to those offended," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, the first high-ranking government official, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier declined to go under a confirmatory test using the DOH-approved kits.
"I feel that the remaining available testing kits should be utilized by those who need them the most, like frontline medical personnel and symptomatic patients, especially the elderly," said Zubiri, who was also the subject of online criticism.
"Whatever test that will be done on me later on will be from the 10,000 kits our private sector group Art Rocks is paying for and bringing in from Korea as donations to frontline hospitals and not from government sources," he said.
The administration of COVID-19 tests became a hot topic in the Philippines, after a Senate inquiry earlier found that the DOH only had 2,000 testing kits shortly before the government declared a state of public health emergency to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
As of March 23 noon, 380 patients in the Philippines contracted the disease. Of those infected, 25 died while 17 recovered. Thousands more have yet to be tested as the government continues to wait for donated test kits from China, South Korea and the private sector.