Interview

Interview with Presidential Cabinet Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles by Ria Tanjuatco-Trillo (CNN Philippines – The Source)


RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO: Secretary, good morning. Thanks for joining us.

SEC. NOGRALES: Good morning, Ria. At magandang umaga rin po sa lahat ng mga nanunood ngayon. 

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO: Okay. Secretary, so far the country has yet to detect an Omicron variant case. That is good news for now. But how concerning is this new variant for the IATF?

SEC. NOGRALES: Well, right now, we are still awaiting the WHO on their findings on whether or not the Omicron is indeed more transmissible or if the Omicron is more severe or more fatal because right now, siyempre there is still doing the studies. Although, preliminary indications show that it maybe more transmissible. Although, preliminary indications also show that it may not be more severe or deadly than the Delta.

So while awaiting, the final word from the WHO, what we are doing right now is we are stepping up our four-door strategy in terms of preventing the entry of this Omicron variant and all other variants or COVID-19 for that matter by strengthening iyong ating restrictions, travel restrictions – that’s door one. Then door number 2, obviously, is the testing and protocols for international travellers coming into the country including returning Overseas Filipinos. And then, of course, door three is our PDITR strategy in the community level, plus door four, iyong granular lockdowns kung kinakailangan.        

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO: All right, just as you said, we really don’t know that much about this variant. It’s a bit of a wait and see. And Health Secretary Francisco Duque himself said it’s no longer a matter of when but if, no matter a question of if but rather when. And all we can do is delay the entry of the variant.

What other things are we doing proactively to prepare for the entry of Omicron, you know, you mentioned the four-door strategy. What about our healthcare system, what is being done there?

SEC. NOGRALES: Yes, so that being said, the reason, why we are stepping up the four-door strategy is to again delay the entry. Like what all health experts say, it’s just a matter of time when this Omicron variant will come into the shores.

So, in the meantime, all of the healthcare facilities, all the ICU beds, all the mechanical ventilators, our healthcare workers, the manpower needs in all the hospitals, we are preparing them for the worst-case scenario. So, minu-monitor natin lahat ng mga healthcare facilities natin, mga isolation facilities natin, mga quarantine facilities natin down to the barangay level to make sure that they are ready ‘no if and when the time comes.

That being said, iyong countries that we are monitoring include those na were seeing some spikes and … Europe, European countries for instance are the countries that we are really taking a closer look at. And if we need to, let say red list a country or several countries, once we see that the indicators for red listing of a country are met, then we in the IATF will not hesitate to red list more countries; because as WHO officials saying the new epicenter now of COVID is in Europe. So we are taking a very, very close look at all the indicators per country in Europe.                   

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO: All right. So you see some of those countries on your screen right now. What are the factors that would put a country on the red list?

SEC. NOGRALES: Kapag nakita natin na nagkaroon ng surge, meaning to say, iyong two-week growth rate nila, tumaas; if we see that iyong attack rate is increasing; if we see that even in that country itself there’s a cause for concern, we have parameters set for red listing.

So, ‘pag nagkakaroon ng surge ang isang country and then it meets the parameters for red listing, we will put in the red list. Otherwise—we have parameters also for green listing and yellow listing. But right now, so as not to confuse travellers, iyong green-listed and yellow-listed countries, all follow the same quarantine, testing and quarantine protocols kapag dumating na sila dito sa ating bansa. So, they all follow the yellow-list quarantine and protocols for international travellers whether technically green list ka or yellow list. So, hindi na natin masyado kino-confuse ang public, basta wala ka sa—basta sa red list, bawal pumasok, unless Filipino and then through a Bayanihan flight or a government initiated or even non-government-initiated repatriation flights, those are our Bayanihan flights. Otherwise, all other countries not in the red list will have to follow the yellow list protocols.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO: Okay, Secretary, regarding naman doon sa red list. You mentioned earlier that you won’t hesitate to add to that list of red listed countries, correct? And you have just mentioned what parameters that would be. So, hindi naman ibig sabihin na dahil nagkaroon ng Omicron case sa isang bansa, the country would immediately be placed on the red list. You are saying, there should be a surge at least?

SEC. NOGRALES: Yes, that’s correct. Because we already have existing parameters to red list a country and those parameters were approved by the IATF even before Omicron came. So what happened was when Omicron became a variant of concern, we had to red list some countries where Omicron came from ‘no. Where Omicron was first reported and that was South Africa, then the neighboring countries surrounding South Africa that was our initial reaction, which was the initial reaction of many countries as well.

Then after that, nag-begin din tayong mag-red list doon sa mga countries na the Omicron variant was detected. Then after several meetings we decided na okay let’s hold off first in red listing countries unless they hit our present parameters for red listing. So iyon ang umiiral ngayon, we won’t red list until they hit the parameters. So tama ka, not necessarily dahil may Omicron. Although, if may Omicron, we take a closer look at that also. Kasi binabantayan rin namin iyong capability also of the country to do bio-surveillance, genomic sequencing kasi baka maaaring tumataas ang bilang ng isang country in terms of the COVID cases but even if they don’t report Omicron, it may just be the delay in the bio-surveillance being done in that country na hindi naman nila agad-agad nadi-detect iyong Omicron. Because different countries, iba-iba iyong konteksto, iba’t ibang mga capabilities ng mga iyan.

So, safer, it was safer for us, we believe at ng mga experts na let’s all just follow a stricter yellow list protocol para ma-cover na lahat ng countries. And in case may lulusot diyan na may dalang Omicron, madi-detect agad natin, not necessarily coming from a red list, because the Omicron variant might be already spreading as we speak. Iyon lang, hindi ganoon kabilis ma-detector the bio-surveillance or genomic sequencing capabilities of several countries may not be as swift as we want.

So, by putting everyone on a stricter yellow list protocol – not necessarily red list – then obviously, if we see surges in several countries, we won’t hesitate to red list not necessarily because we see the Omicron variant or na-detect na iyong Omicron variant locally.                                    

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO: All right. And a lot of responsibilities will be in the Philippines when these travellers come home to monitor them. Now, the thing is, the health department is now trying to locate eight travellers from South Africa who seem to have given the wrong information on their contact details. So how should the government address this especially at a time right now where you have a threat of this new variant and you know the entry of travellers could be very, very crucial … or catching travelers is very crucial in our steps of preventing or detecting new variants?

SEC. NOGRALES: That is why it’s very important for everyone to get vaccinated. It’s very important to everyone to strictly adhere to the minimum public health standard ‘no – mask, hugas, iwas plus bakuna.

So that’s really the way for us to protect ourselves from Omicron and from any variant and from COVID-19 disease generally. So we’ve just conducted iyong three-day National Vaccination Days natin, Bayanihan Bakunahan; and then, we’ll conduct another round on December 15, 16, 17 but that’s not to say na between today until 15, 16, 17 hindi nagpapatuloy ang ating vaccination. So patuloy pa rin iyong vaccination natin. And in fact, employees who will get vaccinated beginning December 1 at may schedule ng vaccination should not be marked absent by their employers ‘no. So that started November 29 at the start of the National Vaccination Days and all throughout, lahat ng mga empleyado na may schedule magpabakuna ay dapat hindi ma-mark absent ng employer niya.

And that’s really one way for us to protect everyone from any variant. Because this Omicron variant will not be the last, this will not be the last variant ng COVID-19. So we will just have to live with this virus and hopefully we will all be able to defeat it by everybody getting vaccinated and everyone just following the minimum public health standards especially ngayong December, sa panahon ng Kapaskuhan.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  Okay. Going back to the contact tracing there, Secretary, should there be any kind of corresponding actions or consequences for those who give incorrect contact details? Can they be liable in anyway or is there even a way for the government to verify if this information is true or not before they get out of the airport?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Yes, Notifiable Diseases Act which is actually iyong umiiral na batas right now in light of this COVID pandemic. Its Notifiable Diseases Act, and nakalagay po diyan iyong penalties for anyone who give false information especially during a public health emergency like this ongoing pandemic ng COVID-19.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  So kapag nahanap iyong eight travelers na iyon, Secretary, will those penalties be meted out to those travelers?

CABSEC NOGRALES: I will leave it to our law enforcement agencies or our prosecutors to investigate. So hindi naman agad-agad. I-investigate muna natin, we’ll have to ask them also. They’ll have to ask them questions.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  All right, Secretary—

CABSEC NOGRALES: But, first and foremost, ayaw ko rin silang takutin. Whoever you are, please come immediately and report yourselves, submit yourselves for testing immediately and report yourselves immediately to authorities. We’re not scaring you; we want your cooperation.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  Yeah, it is for the sake of public health.

CABSEC NOGRALES: Last resort na iyong sinasabi na magsampa pa ng kaso. Now, we want everyone’s cooperation.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  Absolutely. Secretary, we will be taking a short break. This is The Source on CNN Philippines, please stay tuned.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  You’re watching The Source on CNN Philippines, and our guest today is Acting-Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles. Welcome back, Secretary. Good to have you here.

CABSEC NOGRALES: Thank you, Ria.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  Okay, still talking about the red list. The countries that are currently on the red list, they will be there until December 15. Do you think the IATF will lift this or extend it?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Iyong pagri-red list namin ng countries and even the green list and yellow list, we do it every 15th and end of the month. So right now, of course, while monitoring countries right now, we can immediately escalate naman to red list if need be. But iyong de-escalation, as much as possible, we do it before the start of the month. So presumably, we’ll have to talk about this, come up with the final list by the 14th of December for the December 15 to end of December na new listing – green, yellow and red. But that’s not to say na between now until the 15th of December, if we feel that one or several countries need to be red listed immediately, then we’ll do it.

So mabilis kami; kung kinakailangan mag-red list, magri-red list kami agad, but iyong pag-de-escalate, we tend to do it every 15th and end of the month for the 15-day period per month.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  All right. Before the break, we were talking about the different measures being taken by the IATF to prepare for the entry of the Omicron variant. What about return of face shields? Very controversial, very unpopular, is this still being discussed with the IATF if ever na mababalik iyong mandatory use of face shields?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Well, it’s still the same, kumbaga status quo natin which is based on the latest IATF resolutions. And that means na since the entire country is under Alert Level 2, then it’s really purely voluntary. But we’ve already clarified what voluntary means and that really means that establishments whether public or private establishments may require their customers or clientele to wear face shields and may require their employees to wear face shields. So the voluntary aspect of that really belongs to the establishment if they feel it is an added protection for customers, clientele and employees.

That being said, mandatory pa rin po in healthcare settings. So hospitals, quarantine centers, quarantine areas, quarantine facilities, healthcare settings required iyong face shield. So that’s really the status quo. We are not currently talking about any changes right now. Ayaw ko ring pangunahan if Omicron comes, but so far, ito po iyong status quo natin.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  All right. National Vaccination Days, phase 2 of that is going to happen on December 15 to 17. Can you tell us what we can expect for the second wave of vaccination? What exactly is the goal?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Well, the goal really is, by the end of the month, we want to hit 54 million fully vaccinated. So, sa second round ng National Vaccination Days natin, the focus will be on those who need their second dose. But that’s not to say that we won’t be administering doses for those who need their first dose. But the target that we want to meet for the National Vaccination Days are those who need their second dose.

Then, what we want to do also is create a system, based on our experience in the first round of the National Vaccination Days, create also a system for walk-ins because there were some initial confusions about whether or not to accept walk-ins during the first round ng National Vaccination Days. We have to address that and in fact allow walk-ins and create a system for walk-ins as well.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  All right. And you were saying earlier that attendees for this second round of National Vaccination Days will also be exempted from their work when they join the vaccination drive, right?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Yes, yes. Actually, starting December 1, Ria, and onwards anyone who wants to get—needs to get vaccinated and who is scheduled to get vaccinated should be allowed. And employers should allow their employees and should not mark them as ‘absent’ if they need to go get vaccinated – if mayroon silang proof na it’s their schedule and then obviously get the jab and then siyempre kailangan pakita nila sa employer nila na totoo naman talagang nagpabakuna sila.

But right now, iyong sa second round ng national vaccination days is something that we really push us towards our goal of 54 million Filipinos fully vaccinated by end of the year. And I think ano naman, by December 31 of 2021, we’re all confident that we will surpass ‘no the 54 million fully vaccinated especially if we get the same support or even much more support for this second round ng Bayanihan, Bakunahan.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  Speaking of support, is the IATF considering giving the private sector a bigger role in rolling out vaccinations?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Yes. In fact, we’d like to thank the private sector ‘no for their all-out support sa ating National Vaccination Days round 1 and their upcoming support for round 2. Marami sa mga private sector partners natin and those who support us in the private sector all around the country given vaccination sites, provided volunteers. And in fact, even in communication, information dissemination and just encouraging their workers, their employees, people within their organization to get vaccinated really, really big help ‘no in pushing these more and more Filipinos to get vaccinated.

So maraming, maraming salamat and we hope for the same support in terms of these vaccination sites. Kasi iyong private sector, they have the means and the sites necessary. We need to multiply the number of vaccination sites. We need big sites. We need—and all the logistics and all the manpower requirements to make these all happen on a nationwide scale, malaking bahagi talaga ang private sector dito.

And thanks also to the media for always covering and really pushing for everybody to get vaccinated.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  All right. Secretary, we’ll be taking another short break once again. This is The Source on CNN Philippines. Please stay tuned.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  You’re watching The Source on CNN Philippines. Our guest today, Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles.

Now, Secretary, one thing I want to ask you is there’s a report in The Manila Times saying that the clerk of court in Las Piñas has filed a complaint against the Supreme Court and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in connection with the implementation of the mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 for onsite workers in areas where there is an ample supply of vaccines. It’s a 70-page petition asking the Manila Regional Trial Court to declare as void IATF’s recent resolution on mandatory vaccination. Your thoughts on this? Can you comment on that and tell us more?

CABSEC NOGRALES: Yeah. Well, first of all, I have not seen… none of us have seen the complaint yet. As I know it, as a lawyer, procedurally if we are required to submit a comment or whatever… an answer, then we will await ‘no the court to ask us to do so ‘no. So procedurally, we will have to await whatever required response – if any will be asked of us by the court – and we will submit … we will submit.

But just the same, if indeed it is true na mayroon ngang nag-file ng petisyon in court, then I guess the sub-judice rule will apply. But sa amin naman, wala naman kaming ginawang mandatory doon ‘no. Kung titingnan natin iyong resolution na pinalabas ng IATF, there is nothing there that says it is mandatory and even the language itself is very clear ‘no. Nakalagay din doon na—in fact, nakalagay doon sa mga resolution namin na it’s not mandatory and it’s not a basis for termination as well.

So we did everything by the book, we’re an inter-agency task force and that means we also have lawyers and our legal luminaries and representative from even the DOJ were there. So lahat ng pinag-uusapan namin sa IATF, obviously we really get the inputs especially from our—not just health experts but even the legal experts to make sure that the letter, the intent and what is written in the IATF resolution pass the test of being legal and constitutional even.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  Right, okay. Stepping away from pandemic talk, President Duterte has accepted an invitation to President Biden’s Pro-Democracy Summit. What does this say about the relationship of President Duterte now with the United States while China is attacking or criticizing the Biden Summit, calling it a joke?

CABSEC NOGRALES: You know, si Pangulong Duterte has always been consistent naman ‘no in his foreign policy and even foreign relations. And to put it quite candidly and very consistently, the foreign policy of the President has never changed – it has always been friend to all, enemy to none. And he stuck by that from the beginning of his term as President and the administration of President Duterte has always stuck with that ‘no – friend to all, enemy to none.

RIA TANJUATCO-TRILLO:  All right. Thank you for that. We always appreciate your time here on CNN Philippines. That was Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles.

 

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SOURCE: PCOO-NIB (News and Information Bureau-Data Processing Center