The Rundown: Fears over ‘second’ COVID-19 wave, Sinas to stay, first tranche of SAP nears completion

More than two months since quarantine measures were implemented nationwide, public confusion still persists as government authorities’ efforts continue to fall short in alleviating the effects of the pandemic on citizens.

The LaSallian looks back at the nationwide happenings in the past week, including contradictory pronouncements from government officials; continuing developments for the media and rule of law; and maintaining aid efforts for marginalized sectors.

Second wave

Despite the country still locked in the initial stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III made a baffling pronouncement in a Senate hearing last Wednesday, May 20. According to Duque, the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the country is in fact already a second wave, which he claimed began in March, while the first wave, he explained, occurred back in January and February when the first three “imported cases” were reported. 

The health secretary’s claim was immediately disputed by senators, firing back at the lack of mass testing being carried out—and thereby the lack of complete and accurate data to determine whether the country has peaked or declined along the COVID-19 curve. “Paano natin masasabing bumababa na ang numero ng new cases kung hindi naman tayo nagte-test?” prodded Sen. Kiko Pangilinan. 

(How can we say that the number of new cases is decreasing if we are not testing?)

Epidemiologist Dr. John Wong, who is working with the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), previously explained that the first “small” wave occurred at the end of January, followed by a month-long lull before the sudden spike in cases at the end of March. 

Nevertheless, Malacañang distanced itself from Duque’s statement. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asserted last Thursday, May 21, that the country is still experiencing the first wave, but held back from faulting Duque. “Lahat po ng propesyunal, iba-iba naman ang tingin, ang opinyon sa mga parehong siyensiya at parehong datos,” Roque said.

(All professionals have different perspectives and opinions on the same scientific data.) 

Hold position

Although facing criminal and administrative cases for violating quarantine measures, police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas is set to keep his position, announced President Rodrigo Duterte in his address last Tuesday evening, May 19. “He is a good officer. He is an honest man. Hindi niya kasalanan kung mayroong mangharana sa kanya sa birthday niya,” the President apologetically said.

(It is not his fault if someone serenades him at his birthday). 

This is despite declaring, in the same speech, that the rule of the law would prevail. “So the law is the law is the law. A rule is a rule is a rule and you⁠—when you begin to mess up with the law, talagang ginagarantiya ko sa inyo na makukulong talaga kayo,” he stated earlier in his address.

(I will guarantee that you will be jailed.)

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Archie Gamboa also affirmed that Sinas would not be sacked, citing the general’s contributions to the national COVID-19 response. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service nonetheless assured that the charges against Sinas will continue to be investigated.

Army to handle aid

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Spokesperson Irene Dumlao finally announced last May 18 that more than 17 million out of 18 million low-income families have received the first tranche of emergency cash subsidy from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP). By May 17, P97.7-billion of the P100-billion funds allocated under the first tranche had been given to beneficiaries in 17 regions.

The slow rate of distribution, however, prompted Duterte to demand that aid delivery be led by police and military forces. Several local government units had earlier struggled to meet the May 7 deadline for the first tranche of SAP. 

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año announced on May 20 that the second tranche of SAP may be received by the DSWD starting Monday, May 25.

Repatriation rush

As Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) left without work continue to pour back home, authorities struggle with the increasing number of arrivals. Testing and isolation capabilities for returning OFWs are also stretched thin. 

While the Department of Foreign Affairs has already repatriated an estimated 25,000 OFWs, COVID-19 Chief Policy Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. warned that the government must anticipate an overwhelming rise of OFW arrivals in the succeeding months. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Hans Cacdac estimated that P2.5-billion will be needed to accommodate 45,000 more returnees. As of May 12, the agency has already spent P311-million for lodging.

Lawmakers initially drafted a proposal for an additional P1-billion for returning OFWs. However, the Department of Labor and Employment quickly raised that the initial budget may not be enough for the scale they are about to deal with. Approximately half a million OFWs may be displaced by August, and around 700,000 individuals by the end of the year, the department added. Due to the distressing number, the allotment was raised to P5-billion. 

Concerning testing for repatriated Filipino workers, Galvez reported that the Philippine Red Cross has provided assistance and tested 22,432 OFWs as of May 19. Of these, 465 OFWs tested positive for the virus; they are already undergoing isolation protocols and are being afforded medical care when necessary. 

Quickened renewal hearings

ABS-CBN’s appeal to restore its broadcast license has continued to drag on. 

House Bill No. 6732, which sought to grant ABS-CBN a temporary franchise until October 31, was dropped by the House of Representatives over doubts on the bill’s constitutionality, after it was approved in two consecutive readings last May 13. House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano announced instead that the House will resume hearings on bills seeking to grant the network a full 25-year franchise renewal. 

Cayetano explained that the fast-tracking process was granted to make way for more pressing COVID-19-related issues. The Legislative Franchises Committee will be given autonomy to allow Congress to scrutinize bills focusing on the COVID-19 response efforts. Two to three hearings will be allotted per week via video conferences and in-person meetings. 

The House will begin hearings on the pending bills starting on Tuesday, May 26. 

Localized lockdowns

With quarantine measures eased in most parts of the country, several business sectors were allowed to reopen and workers began to return to their jobs—putting themselves at greater risk for contracting the disease. Straggling concerns of economic damage and containing viral transmission, Galvez announced in a meeting with Duterte last May 19 that the IATF would release guidelines on implementing barangay lockdowns in place of region-wide quarantine measures. 

Headed by the DILG, such provisions will be imposed in specific localities with high COVID-19 infection rates. Such strategy was anchored on the “sonic concept”, as Galvez described, with designated “critical” and “containment zones” under stricter quarantine measures, as opposed to implementing a singular policy over entire provinces and regions.

As of press time, a barangay-wide quarantine is recommended when there are at least two positive COVID-19 cases belonging to separate households in the same locality.

John Robert Lee

By John Robert Lee

Isabela Marie Roque

By Isabela Marie Roque

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