MANILA – Politicians and government officials should not use clout to give them priority for access to coronavirus disease (Covid-19) testing, a Palace official said on Monday.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles made this remark following reports that a number of politicians and government officials got tested for Covid-19 allegedly despite not showing any symptoms.
“Siguro may general rules naman tayo diyan. Walang lamangan, walang gulangan (There are general rules in place. We should not take advantage or use clout),” he said in a Laging Handa public briefing.
He said Covid-19 should be available to all Filipinos, regardless of position or status.
“Ito’y para sa lahat ng Pilipino. Kaya nga po meron tayong mga general guidelines na pinapatupad para pantay-pantay ang lahat (This is for all Filipinos. That’s why there are guidelines being implemented to ensure that all is fair),” he said.
The Department of Health (DOH), in a statement, assured that there is no policy for VIP-treatment and that all individuals are being processed on a first-in, first-out basis.
However, officials holding positions of national security and public health will be accorded with courtesy, the department said.
Based on the DOH’s updated screening protocol, only persons under investigation (PUI) with mild symptoms who are elderly, with underlying conditions, immunocompromised, and admitted PUIs in severe and critical condition are eligible for testing.
A PUI refers to one with symptoms such as fever, cold, and cough and has a history of travel to China in the past 14 days.
Last March 16, Senator Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19 despite not exhibiting any symptoms. He is currently undergoing self-quarantine.
He drew flak for being allowed to undergo testing while health workers and high-risk patients including the sick and elderly had to resort to self-quarantine while some even died without getting tested due to the shortage of testing kits.
Despite being encouraged by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to get tested again to check if his initial swabbing was a false positive, he said the limited testing kits should be utilized by health workers and other frontliners who were at greater risk of catching the disease.
Senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Francis Tolentino also received backlash online for getting tested despite being asymptomatic. Their results were both negative.
The two senators clarified that the testing kits they used did not come from the DOH.
There were also a number of Cabinet members who got tested for Covid-19 namely Cabinet Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, among others, who all tested negative.
President Rodrigo Duterte and the first family also tested negative for Covid-19.
In the same briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also denied reports that Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) Director Celia Carlos was replaced by Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago, of the Public Health Services Team.
She said clarified that the circulating issuance stating that Carlos was replaced by Santiago was an “error” in the draft document which was eventually corrected.
Netizens earlier criticized the agency’s alleged move to replace Carlos, speculating that she was removed for refusing to expedite the testing processes for some VIPs.
“Director Celia Carlos would still be our Director IV for RITM because she has the technical expertise and we have added Asst. Sec. Nestor Santiago to oversee her para po makapag bigay ng tulong sa pag-extend ng ating laboratory capacity (so that he could assist in extending our laboratory capacity),” she said.
She, meanwhile, expressed hope that the arrival of the 100,000 testing kits from China would help the department detect and appropriately manage the symptoms of the highly-infectious disease.
The testing kits from China will be distributed in the country’s sub-national laboratories. (PNA)