Some senators question policy that bans seniors from going out over COVID-19 risk

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 30 2020 12:55 PM

FILE PHOTO: Senior citizens line up to receive social pension from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) at the Quezon City Hall. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Some senators on Thursday questioned the Department of Health's policy prohibiting senior citizens from going out of their homes over the risk of COVID-19 infection even in areas where the quarantine protocol has been eased.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said using age in as the basis of an individual's health is "downright stupid." He noted that most high-ranking officials are already beyond 60 years old. 

"Many senior citizens are far healthier and with stronger immune system than their younger counterparts. To indiscriminately prohibit them from going out of their homes is not only arbitrary, it is downright stupid," Lacson said.

"Just to give credence to my argument - ang ibang male senate staff ko nga na di hamak na mas bata kesa sa akin, hindi makasabay sa akin pag gumagamit ako ng stairs paakyat sa 6th floor office ko. 'Yung iba naman, laging may sipon at laging uubo-ubo, samantalang ako, laging malakas ang immune system," said Lacson, a former police chief. 

(Some of my male staff who are far younger than me cannot keep up with me when I use the stairs to go to my office on the 6th floor. Some of my staff almost always have cough and colds, while I have a strong immune system.)

"Idagdag ko pa, may staff nga ako na mukhang tatay at kuya ko," said Lacson, who is turning 72 in June. 

(I have to add that some of my staff even look like my dad or my elder brother.)

Sen. Imee Marcos said allowing senior citizens to work during the global pandemic is "a really tricky situation."

"Totoo naman na ito ay dahil sa pag-aalaga sa seniors kasi nakikita natin na fatalities at morbidities sa seniors mataas talaga... [pero] hindi naman mandatory. May semblance naman ng discretion kahit paano," Marcos said in an online press conference.

(It is true that the policy is there to care for our seniors because we see that fatalities and morbidies among senior citizens who are infected with COVID-19 are high... but it should not be mandatory. There has to be a semblance of discretion.)

"Dito sa Ilocos, uso 'yung senior citizens na mag-isa lang sila sa bahay. Alangan namang hindi sila lumabas para bumili?" she said.

(Here in Ilocos, we have senior citizens who stay alone in their houses. Should we stop them from going out to buy supplies?)

The executive branch has to amend the rules as "most of our political and business leaders are seniors," Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in a separate statement.

"They should be allowed to work and be mobile," he said.

If the ban on senior citizens is enforced, President Rodrigo Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, and even Health Secretary Francisco Duque III "should not leave their respective residences," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

"Senate President Vicente Sotto III, senators [Richard] Gordon, Lacson, [Lito] Lapid and myself cannot attend the Senate sessions starting May 4," the 74-year-old Minority Leader told lawmakers when asked for comment. 

The Senate is expected to convene next week to pass a measure that would allow the chamber to hold online sessions during the coronavirus crisis. If a quorum is not mustered on Monday, the chamber cannot amend its rules and will have to meet physically despite the coronavirus lockdown.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez has clarified that senior citizens in areas with eased quarantine policies would be allowed to go out of their homes to buy essential goods.

Senior citizens who are working or running businesses will also be allowed to leave their homes subject to an "ID system."

"IATF is not insisting that seniors are under house arrest or will be house arrest," Lopez said, referring to the government's inter-agency task force which formulates policies on the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is just an overall policy presented to us due to vulnerability of the age segment especially during the quarantine period," he said.

The lockdown over the entire Luzon ends Thursday, April 30, and the enhanced community quarantine will be extended in several areas and relaxed into a general quarantine in other areas.