The Rundown: Metro Manila back to GCQ, Masbate tremor, Philhealth ‘sabotage’

Last Monday August 17, strict quarantine measures over Metro Manila were again eased as the government reverted the region’s status back to a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) to aid the ailing economy. Despite the containment effort, however, COVID-19 cases continue to rise, approaching 200,000 cases nationwide. As of Monday, August 24, the Department of Health has logged a total of 194,252 COVID-19 cases. Active cases stand at 59,200 and total deaths at 3,010.

A roof leak occurred in the regional PhilHealth office in Dagupan City, Pangasinan amid the rampant corruption claims as the Senate and House of Representatives conduct marathon hearings on the case. Allegations from senators are surfacing, suggesting the damage was staged in order to destroy incriminating evidence.

Stricter GCQ imposed over Mega Manila

Malacañang has once again shifted quarantine measures in Metro Manila, Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, and Bulacan from a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine to a GCQ last Monday, August 17, until the end of the month. The rest of the country, meanwhile, will remain under Modified General Community Quarantine.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque noted, however, that the new GCQ protocols imposed over Metro Manila will be “stricter”.

“When we consulted the mayors they were in agreement that it should be GCQ, but it should be of the strict type similar to what was imposed in June when we first went on GCQ,” Roque said in a CNN Philippines interview.

These protocols will remain in effect until the end of the month, according to Roque.

Dine-in restaurants, salons, and barbershops were once again allowed to open. Local government units are expected to decide on the capacity of these establishments and whether or not quarantine passes will be required, except for authorized workers. 

Meanwhile, mass gatherings, including those of religious services, are now allowed, with a maximum capacity of only 10 people. Barriers for motorcycle back riders, however, are no longer required, while apart from face masks, face shields are also now mandatory in enclosed establishments, such as malls and workplaces, and public transportation.

Masbate hit by tremor

The province of Masbate was hit by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake last Tuesday, August 18. All across the island province, houses, power lines, roads, and public buildings were damaged by the tremor. The earthquake also forced the local government unit of the town of Cataingan to evacuate 101 locally stranded individuals (LSI) who were quarantined in a local sports complex that was damaged by the earthquake. The LSIs will continue their 14-day quarantine in local public schools, the local government said.

As of August 24, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council recorded one dead and 51 injured, with 1,039 people displaced. Nevertheless, important infrastructure, such as the Cataingan District Hospital and the municipality’s public market, experienced only minimal damage, while Masbate Airport suffered only minimal operational interruptions.

Sabotage allegation amid PhilHealth fiasco

Investigations continued last week on reports of corruption within the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). In a Senate hearing last Tuesday, August 18, Thorrson Montes Keith, a former PhilHealth anti-fraud officer who resigned last July, tagged Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as the “godfather of the mafia” in the agency, an accusation that Duque later denied.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires earlier ordered the suspension of 13 senior PhilHealth officials for six months without pay, although Martires did not clarify which complaint triggered the sudden suspension. 

The next day, August 19, after three marathon hearings, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the Senate will be drafting a committee report regarding the alleged corruption to conclude their probe on the matter. 

On the same day, rumors emerged that the roof in PhilHealth’s Ilocos Regional office had leaks, potentially water damaged important documents. Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that there was “enough reason” to suspect that the incident was intentional, hinting at the possibility that evidence connected to the probe was being destroyed.

PhilHealth maintained, however, that the documents remained intact, welcoming agencies such as the Philippine National Police, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct investigations into the incident.

By Helen Saudi

By Sophia De Jesus

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