MANILA — A doctor teaching at the University of the Philippines said the government could improve its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response if it tapped public health experts.
“The pandemic was framed in a discipline narrative,” Dr. Gene Nisperos of the UP College of Medicine said at a virtual forum organized by Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID) on Wednesday.
He pointed out that instead of taking on a public health approach, the government ended up berating people who were “pasaway” or disobedient, accusing the people of being at fault for the spread of the virus.
“Itong nangyari kahit yung quarantine, which is a public health measure naging very militaristic (What happened with the quarantine, which was supposed to be a public health measure, is that it became militaristic),” he said. “The tendency of those implementing the quarantine is to punish.”
Among the examples he gave are the shooting of a mentally-ill man and the inhumane punishment of some quarantine violators.
“Human rights are totally violated,” he said.
IBON Foundation executive director Sonny Africa, who talked about the problem of unemployment at the forum, pointed out that the country’s leaders for the COVID-19 response are mostly military men.
Among those he named are National Task Force (NTF) Chief Implementor Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., NTF Chairperson and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista. All are retired military generals.
Africa said the insufficient government response to the COVID-19 pandemic “actually falls on their laps.”
“Siguro pwedeng i-attribute yung ating problema sa health response sa isang public health emergency is the fact na walang expertise yung mga military officials natin,” he said.
(Perhaps we can attribute the problem of our response to a public health emergency to the fact that our military officials do not have the expertise needed.)
“At the same time, very worrying din ung ang ating Health Secretary ay hindi kaya mag-assert ng maayos doon (Inter-Agency Task Force) at ang mas umiiral na boses ay economic managers. It makes sense kung bakit ganito ang health response natin, even ang economic response,” Africa said.
(At the same time, it is also very worrying that the Health Secretary is unable to assert and that economic managers are more vocal. It makes sense why our health response is like this, even our economic response.)
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has received a lot of flak for various COVID response issues.
“It’s clearly well established na may job mismatch, qualification mismatch sa leadership ng COVID response ng government,” Africa said.
(It’s clearly well established that there is a job mismatch, qualification mismatch int he leadership of the government’s COVID response.)
Nisperos agreed, saying that it was a “miscast” like in the movies where the actors fail to portray the roles given to them.
The UP doctor said the government’s response was ”driven by political rather than health or medical concerns.”
Asked what he thinks of the government’s decision to assign former military man and now Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to head the COVID response in Cebu City, the doctor said it would be better to have someone who at least had a background on public health.
“Hindi kailangan doctor. Mas maganda kung public health ang background. At may pananaw sya ng buong health system para holistic ang approach,” he said.
(You don’t need a doctor. But it’s better if he has a public health background. And he understands the health system so his approach is holistic.)
He said anyone leading the pandemic response should also have good management skills and the respect of the local government.
Malacañang recently said that Cimatu can tap the military to contain the virus spread in Cebu City, an emerging COVID-19 hotspot.
But Nisperos said that those from the military have a “tendency to only see it as a discipline issue.”
“Kung ang background mo ay manghuli, ang tendency mo ay manghuli,” he said.
(If you background is to arrest people, your tendency is to arrest.)
On the other hand, people from the health sector would be more caring, he said.
“How to deal with the COVID crisis comes from a caring and nurturing ang lifesaving frame of mind,” he said.