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President Duterte Meets with IATF-EID: "I want to call this ‘talking to the people'"

The government gave updates on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines.
IMAGE Facebook/Presidential Communications
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President Rodrigo Duterte held a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at 11:34 PM on Tuesday, May 19, to discuss updates on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines.

Present at the meeting to give reports were DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.c, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año, and DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista.

Updates from Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Lopez

Following the directive to balance health concerns with the economy, the DTI's main goal is to bring back jobs to the people. They have only partially-opened the economy to prevent the second and third wave spreading of COVID-19.

Guidelines were established by the Department of Health (DOH) regarding social distancing, the wearing of face masks, regular sanitation maintenance, and required daily health declaration of workers. Only those suspected of having COVID-19 will have to undergo the RT-PCR swab test, which will be covered by PhilHealth or their own private healthcare provider.

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Employees and their companies need to come up with alternative work arrangements such as working from home, if company-provided shuttle services are not an option. During ECQ, wage subsidies for workers from the informal sector were distributed, amounting to P5,000-P8,000 depending on the location.

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Once the ECQ is lifted, Secretary Lopez talked about a P1B loan for microfinancing, with a monthly interest rate of 0.5% and 6-month grace period. The Economic Stimulus Package includes a proposal for increased funding (ideally P30-80B pesos) for micro-SMEs.

Updates from COVID-19 Chief Implementer, Secretary Galvez

According to the DOH, since the implementation of ECQ there has been an increase in the number of treatment facilities, from 4 to 23 COVID-19 referral hospitals. Medical capacity has also increased: 1,748 wards are now available, as well as 5,776 isolation rooms, 848 ICU beds, and 1,578 ventilators.

The DOH has succeeded in procurring 1.8B worth of PPEs. They have distributed 603,000 sets, 230,000 sets are lined up for distribution, and 200,000 will be sent to Davao City which will act as a distribution point. 3 million PPEs have started being delivered, with 600,000 PPE sets in reserve. Additionally, "since May we were able to preserve our frontliners, our doctors and our [medical] personnel."

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Returning OFWs now number more than 27,000 in Manila alone, and it's expected that 42,000 will arrive in the country by June. Hotels are overwhelmed, so the situation of stranded OFWs needs to be immediately addressed. Through the Philippine Red Cross, 22,432 OFWs have been tested, and 465 were identified as positive for COVID-19.

Secretary Galvez stated that the government should localize action plans through LGUs, with IATF guidance. He suggests that the next step would be lockdowns by barangay: "Yung barangay na may cases, yun po ang ila-lockdown natin para ma-preserve ang economy natin." He also hopes for an increase in testing capacity (up to 30,000 a day), and aims to strengthen contact tracing effort with help from DILG and DOH.

Updates from Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Año

In coordination with DSWD Secretary Bautista, Secretary Año confirmed SAP distribution is 97% completed, and commends Region I, V, XII, and Caraga for their fast actions. After monitoring anomalies, 183 barangay officials are now being investigated by the PNP-CIDG. 48 mayors are also tasked to explain why they failed to meet SAP distribution deadlines.

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According to President Duterte, "The law is the law is the law. The rule is the rule is the rule." He stated that he will see to it that those who break the law will be imprisoned for their actions.

Secretary Año confirmed the police and military are ready to enforce the MECQ and GCQ protocols, and emphasized that LGUs were informed that testing is not mandatory for all workers returning to their jobs; only for suspect cases.

Updates from Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Bautista

There was a stipend for indigent senior citizens. 1.03 million people were given financial assistance, with the total funds amounting to 3.07B pesos. Immediate assistance was also provided for those in need and under crisis situations: 65,333 people benefited, including students, construction workers, factory workers, seafarers, OFWs, grab food drivers, and stranded individuals.

According to Secretary Bautista, the DSWD partnered with United Registered Social Workers to provide psychological first aid and psycho-social services. This consists of help lines by phone relative to gender-based violence, child abuse, and mental health cases. "Through the phone you can contact academe and social worker practitioners" to ask for advice, he said.

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Through the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program, the DSWD will provide transportation or relocation assistance, transitory family support package, transitory settlement assistance, and livelihood settlement grants in the form of cash depending on the case management of the families who volunteer to return to the province.

For the second tranche, digital payments will now be used by the DWSD in distributing emergency financial subsidies.

President Duterte also spoke about the gradual re-opening of the economy, and said that it was an opportunity to see if we could return to normal life. However if the spread of COVID-19 remains at its current pace, we will have to return to the original lockdown program.

According to the president, a pharmaceutical company called Moderna has tests showing positive results in terms of a possible vaccine. The problem is, the vaccine will only be ready January 2021, at the very earliest. Remember, "The loosening of the government restriction does not mean that COVID-19 is gone." COVID-19 will remain until the entire population has received the vaccine, so he urged parents to have their children vaccinated. 

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Reiterating Secretary Lopez's instructions, President Duterte said it is not a mandatory requirement by DOLE or DTI for all employees to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work. However, if it is required by your employer, then you should be tested. Instead, focus on social distancing, regular washing of hands and wearing of face masks, and maintaining proper cough etiquette. 

In return, employers must provide ideal working conditions for their workers. Workspaces have to be well-ventilated and regularly disinfected. Right now, the government is prioritizing the five million families who have not yet received cash aid. However, they are currently short on tax collections, so they're in need of funds, especially if the discovery of a vaccine is announced.

This story originally appeared on reportr.world.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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