As Duterte hits Gordon, Palace says probing 'false positives' in Red Cross COVID tests

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 21 2021 04:03 PM | Updated as of Sep 21 2021 05:27 PM

A mother guides her child during a saliva test inside a COVID-19 saliva testing center at the Philippine Red Cross headquarters in Mandaluyong City on Feb. 4, 2021. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News/File
A mother guides her child during a saliva test inside a COVID-19 saliva testing center at the Philippine Red Cross headquarters in Mandaluyong City on Feb. 4, 2021. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — Malacañang said on Tuesday a government facility has started checking the supposed "false positives" among COVID-19 tests by the Philippine Red Cross, which President Rodrigo Duterte flagged in his latest tirades against the organization's head.

Duterte on Monday said 244 hospital personnel, members of his security team, and personnel of the finance department initially tested positive for the novel coronavirus in PRC screening before later getting negative results in confirmatory tests. 

"Nilabas lang ni Presidente 'yon kasi dapat talaga maimbestigahan ng RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine) paano nangyayari 'yan," Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday.

"Nasa makina po ‘yan eh. You have to test the accuracy of the machines. At ‘yan ay ginagawa na as we speak," he said in a press briefing. 

(The President only bared that because it needs to be investigated by the RITM... That rests on the machine. You have to test the accuracy of the machines. And that is being done as we speak.)

Asked if the move could erode public trust in the credibility of coronavirus test results, Roque said, "Hindi. Kaya nga pinapaimbestigahan natin, para we will make sure that the tests are in fact accurate." 

(No. We are having that investigated so that we can make sure that the tests are in fact accurate.)

"Now we know they are not perfect, but we are taking steps to make them more accurate," he added.

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Duterte's comment on the supposed false positives in tests conducted by the PRC came days after its chairman Sen. Richard Gordon led an investigation into government's pandemic transactions, including procurement of allegedly overpriced supplies from a firm with supposed ties to a former economic adviser of the President.

The President previously insulted Gordon's weight, accused him of using the humanitarian organization for his political agenda, and threatened to "disassociate" the government from the PRC if it refused to undergo a state audit. 

Roque said the Commission on Audit has made "no response yet, as far as I know" on Duterte's instruction to look into the finances of the humanitarian organization. 

The COA had said it has no jurisdiction over the non-government organization. Government auditors could only look into state medical insurer PhilHealth's payments to PRC for running coronavirus tests, said COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo.

"But in that case, what we’re auditing actually is PhilHealth in making those payments," Aguinaldo said.

Gordon on Tuesday tagged Duterte as "a bully."

"The Filipino people can fight back against bullies," Gordon said during a congressional hearing that took place on the anniversary of former President Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of martial law.

"Halatang halata kayo. Namemersonal na kayo... Bakit ninyo ako inaaway? Ginagawa ko lang ang aking tungkulin," he said.

(You are so obvious. You are going personal... Why are you picking a fight with me? I'm just doing my job.) 
PRC assures accuracy

The PRC earlier said it "merely stepped up" when government failed to address coronavirus testing needs. It said it allowed its finances to "bleed" over delays in PhilHealth payments. 

In a statement on Tuesday, the organization said all its 13 testing laboratories "obtained a 100% score for the proficiency tests they underwent" in April 2020 and in May 2021. 

"This test and the strict implementation of quality standards in all PRC laboratories based on protocols set upon by manufacturers, in line with the standards set forth by the DOH and the RITM, assure the public of the accuracy of test results released by PRC," it said. 

Two House lawmakers on Monday raised PRC tests on 48 health workers at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone who tested positive before supposedly getting negative results for the novel coronavirus later. 

This incident triggered "a complete re-run and a manual process to eliminate the possibility of erroneous results, which may be caused by cross-contamination," the PRC said. 

"This is an example of a situation where the PRC, on its own initiative and at its own expense, requires an automatic re-run by its molecular labs in order to ensure the accuracy of results," said the organization.

"On the second run, the results came out exactly the same," it added.

It said the Subic laboratory "followed standard operating procedures and quality assurance guidelines as it has done for all 122,000 samples processed by the Subic lab from July 1, 2020 to September 3, 2021."

The PRC said the timing of tests done relative to exposure to the virus are factors that may produce different results. The sampling method, test kits, extraction method, and the thermocycler or PCR machine used by the testing laboratory are also factors that may influence the results, it said. 

"While we strongly stand by the integrity of the positive results issued by our Subic laboratory on the samples, we acknowledge the possibility of false positive results since no test is 100% accurate," the PRC said.

"In such cases, the Department of Health encourages us to err on the side of caution and treat all positive results as true positive. This is designed to protect everyone, including the clients and their families and co-workers. This is especially true for healthcare workers who are constantly at risk of exposure to the virus."