Senator Christopher “Bong” Go

MANILA – Senator Christopher “Bong” Go on Wednesday assured that the poor and other vulnerable sectors of society would be given free face masks by the government as it begins enforcing a stricter mask-wearing policy to combat the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Last month, I urged the government to enforce a stronger mask-wearing policy in the country. I appealed to the concerned government agencies to use its available resources to provide more face masks, especially to the poor,” Go said in his message during the launch of the government’s free face mask distribution program at the Ynares Compound in Antipolo City.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Health, who attended the event virtually, said the new program was created in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to strictly enforce the minimum health standards and provide face masks to vulnerable sectors that include households with senior citizens, pregnant women, persons with special health conditions, and social amelioration program (SAP) and Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries.

An initial 10,000 face masks were given out during the event.

“Sa pamamagitan ng programang ito, sinisiguro natin na magkakaroon ng face masks ang mga mahihirap nating kababayan at ang mga miyembro ng vulnerable sectors (Through this program, we are ensuring that the poor and members of vulnerable sectors would have face masks),” Go said.

He said the government must prioritize providing free masks to protect poor and vulnerable sectors because many Filipino families hit hard by the crisis do not have enough resources to buy masks.

“Inoobliga natin silang magsuot ng face masks kahit halos wala na nga silang pambili ng pagkain. Uunahin siyempre nila ang bumili ng pagkain kaysa bumili ng mask. Para naman mabuhay, kailangan nilang bumalik sa trabaho pero hindi sila makakapagtrabaho ng maayos kung hindi sila protektado. Kaya dapat lang na bigyan natin sila ng libreng masks,” he said.

(We are obliging them to wear face masks even if they have little money to buy food. Of course, they will prioritize buying food instead of masks. In order to survive, they also have to return to work, but they cannot work properly if they are not protected. Therefore, we need to provide them with free masks.)

“Bilang pagmamalasakit sa kanilang pinagdadaanan, sisiguraduhin natin na pagdating sa serbisyo mula sa gobyerno, sila ang ating uunahin palagi (Out of concern to their plight, we will ensure that in terms of service from government, they will always be first). It is for them – the poor and the vulnerable – that we are launching the free mask distribution program today,” Go said.

Go also believes that the newly launched initiative will serve as an opportunity to promote locally made face masks, save and create job and livelihood opportunities, and boost local industries.

A report released by the Institute of Global Health Innovation of Imperial College London showed 90 percent of Filipinos were willing to wear a face mask if advised by the government. Over 70 percent felt strongly about setting a good example and contributing to stopping the spread of the virus.

However, the study noted that 47 percent of Filipino respondents experienced difficulties in accessing medical masks.

“The initiative will remedy this. By promoting locally made face masks, we can save and create jobs. And by distributing these to those who cannot afford to buy their own, we are able to save and protect lives,” Go said.

“Kaya bukod sa pagpoprotekta sa kalusugan ng ating mga kababayan, nakatulong pa tayo sa mga maliliit na negosyong Pilipino na lubhang naapektuhan dahil sa krisis na ito. Gusto natin na bumalik ang dating sigla ng ating ekonomiya at kabuhayan sa ating bansa, pero mangyayari lamang ito kapag inisip natin ang kapakanan ng bawat isa,” he added.

(So, besides promoting the health of our countrymen, we are also helping small Filipino businesses severely affected by the crisis. We want to bring our county back to a vibrant economy and livelihood, but it could only happen if we look out for the welfare of each other.)

Go stressed anew to the public the importance of abiding by health and safety measures, the first of which is to wear a face mask, to beat the pandemic.

Citing expert findings, he pointed out that proper wearing of the right kind of mask decreases the risk of catching and spreading the virus by 85 percent. With physical distancing and the use of face shields, the risk may be reduced by more than 90 percent.

“This is why in the absence of a vaccine, wearing a mask remains a must… Let us make it a discipline among all Filipinos to wear face masks at all times,” Go said, as he reminded the public that their cooperation is key to the success of the efforts of the health sector and government.

“Preventing the spread of Covid-19 starts with us by being responsible citizens and following health and safety protocols,” he said. (PNA)