Ex-DOH chief says gov't should be open to criticism over pandemic

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 21 2020 03:54 PM

MANILA--A former Philippine health secretary on Tuesday urged the government to take criticisms "constructively" as officials come under increasing pressure to arrest the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country, despite imposing one of the world's longest lockdowns.

A number of individuals have come under fire from authorities for posting negative comments online about the government's handling of the pandemic, which has infected close to 69,000 people in the Philippines as of Monday.

"It is the function of the private sector to call out government for incompetence, dishonesty, and other faults, if there be any, and government should take all these criticisms, if there be any, in a constructive way, not something that they need to jail people for or for terrorism or something like that," former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral told an online forum.

The Zoom meeting gathered 3 other former Department of Health chiefs, who rejected a proposal to postpone the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law due to dwindling contributions to the state health insurance system during the lockdowns.

"Now is the time," said former Secretary Jaime Galvez Tan, noting how the law would empower communities against COVID-19.

The law assigns a health worker for every Filipino, walking them through a health care system, which is now focused on preventive care.

It also automatically enrolls all Filipinos to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., either as direct or indirect contributors.

Implementing the UHC will help better educate the public on COVID-19, said former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial.

"Walang masyadong info na kumakalat. Ang kumakalat ay 'wag kayong lumabas, mag-face mask kayo. Eh bakit hindi ako lalabas? Bakit ako magpe-face mask? Walang nag-e-explain sa mga tao kaya labas sila nang labas," she said.

(There's not enough information going around. The only message is 'Don't leave your house,' 'Wear a face mask.' Why shouldn't they go out? Why should I wear a face mask? No one explains to people so they keep going out.) 

The government has begun boosting contact tracing, adopting a system put in place by Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, as COVID-19 cases continued to pile up.

Former Health Secretary Enrique Ona cited the need to implement the national ID system to help the government identify people who come in close contact with confirmed cases so they could be tested, isolated, and treated as well.

But Cabral noted that contact tracing would be effective only if test results were released early.

"Kasi kung 2 weeks bago mo makuha yung results na positive pala ang isang pasyente, eh marami nang nahawahan yun at ang contact tracing ay magiging very, very difficult," she said.

(If it takes 2 weeks to get the results and it's positive, he/she would have infected many other people and it makes contact tracing very, very difficult.)