Interview

Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Karen Davila (ANC – Headstart)


SEC. ROQUE: Good morning, Karen. Good morning, Dr. Bengzon.

DAVILA: Yes. Dr. Bengzon, is there anything you’d like to ask Secretary Harry Roque now, at least you can directly address it to him, something that may help Philippine Orthopedic right now?

PHIL. ORTHOPEDIC CTR. DR. BENGZON: Sir, maraming salamat sa mga PPE na padala ng government. Ang tanong lang po namin is: Kailan kaya puwede i-vaccinate na rin iyong mga ibang pasyente na dumarating dito? Kasi hindi natin maasahan na sumusunod talaga sila sa mga COVID precautions. Naka-mask sila, naka-face shield pero baba naman sa ilong, nakataas naman sa ulo iyong mga face shield. So I think that kung kaya, kung kayang gawin as soon as possible hindi lang sa A1 sana plus ang ma-vaccinate, pati na rin sana sa B saka sa C.

SEC. ROQUE: Oo. Ipaparating po natin iyan sa DOH ‘no dahil alam ninyo naman iyong order of vaccination natin, iyong priorities ‘no. Pero I understand dahil matindi naman po naging problema diyan sa Orthopedic and perhaps an exception could be made ‘no. So I will relay this information to Secretary Duque within the day. In fact, right after this program.

DAVILA: All right. God bless you.

PHIL. ORTHOPEDIC CTR. DR. BENGZON: [Unclear]

DAVILA: Yeah. Dr. Mikey, God bless you sir. You take care and we’ll stay in touch.

PHIL. ORTHOPEDIC CTR. DR. BENGZON: Thank you, Karen. Stay safe. Stay safe, sir.

DAVILA: All right. So, Secretary Roque, we don’t have enough time. I know you’ve been busy the whole morning. [Overlapping voices] Yes, but that’s all right.

So let’s start with the two most important issues: The ECQ has been extended. Ang tanong, may pera ba? May ayuda bang manggagaling sa gobyerno after the DBM issued a statement and said that there are no more funds for this one week extension? Secretary Avisado said the 23 billion emergency subsidy was a one-time deal. Can you expound, explain, anong aasahan this week?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, iyong ginawa po kasi natin na ECQ noong Semana Santa, ang traditional na pasok lang naman po talaga is Monday to Tuesday ‘no. So parang dalawang araw lang talaga iyong nawala na kita sa ating mga mamamayan at ang binigay naman po natin is P4,000 per family ‘no. So of course that will never be enough pero ang nature naman po ng ayuda talaga, it’s just to help pass ‘no kumbaga for the period na hindi tayo makakapagtrabaho. So ang alam ko po na mas kinakailangan nang mas malaking ayuda pero for now po ang ayuda na maibibigay nga for the one week, the 5 days na mawawalan ng trabaho at saka iyong 2 days na nawala sa Semana Santa is the P4,000.

DAVILA: Oo. Iyong P4,000 ito iyong P1,000 per individual, maximum of P4,000 in a family – that is the one to be released this week? Iyon na ‘yun?

SEC. ROQUE: Iyon na po, iyon na po ‘yun. Opo, 23 billion.

DAVILA: Oo, 23. So walang chance, Secretary, na ito ay may mapagkukunan pa kayo ng pondo?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I just have to reiterate what Secretary Avisado said, iyon po ‘yung mabibigay natin for this ECQ dahil tinayming (timing) naman po natin na talaga iyong one week na naunang ECQ eh talaga naman pong walang pasok because Semana Santa.

DAVILA: All right. Now, ang pananaw ng ibang tao ay mai-extend pa ‘to at inuunti-unti lang tayo ng gobyerno, that’s the comments ‘no I’ve been hearing. Is there a possibility that after April 11, there will be another extension ‘til the end of April or what are you looking for? What particular measurement are you looking for, for the ECQ not to be extended again? [Garbled] na ang Metro Manila.

SEC. ROQUE: Well, given what Secretary Avisado said ‘no that we have no more funds for ayuda and Congress currently is on recess ‘no. So in case we need a supplemental budget, we would have to request for a special session, I don’t think ECQ for a third week is actually a possibility ‘no. In fact based on the model of the DOH, what they recommended was two weeks of ECQ including last week and then we had earlier another week of bubble to be followed by a week of MECQ ‘no. And if we, in fact, implement the minimum health protocols and we intensify our prevention, detection, isolation, tracing initiatives, we expect the numbers to go down by around 4,000 a day by May 15. So that’s the model that we are pursuing ‘no – two weeks of ECQ and another week of MECQ.

DAVILA: Okay, another question is hospitals are full. What’s quite alarming for many people is even if you’re willing to pay, right, is they can’t give you a bed, they can’t give you a room. What measures are you taking, is the government taking to address the bed shortage and the care shortage?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, the good news is, we have now built additional critical care capacity. Today, we inaugurate a hundred ten ICU bed capacity in what used to be the Quezon Institute ‘no, in QI. It will be operational after a brief ceremony at noon today ‘no.

And in addition to that, we have 160 additional beds in Tala, as well as in Quirino Hospital.  And we had a special meeting actually, attended by ES and Senator Bong Go with Secretary Duque, there is now plan to build mobile tents ‘no ICU facilities of up to 200 beds ‘no. So we have even identified the area, owned by a government-owned and -controlled corporation for this special ICU facility.

So we are doing what other countries did at the height of their own pandemics and relying now on mobile hospitals. So because it takes time to build real hospitals, we need to rely on these mobile hospitals now.

DAVILA: Okay. There’s been criticism in terms of lack of foresight and planning by the government. Couldn’t the DOH, frankly, have done this sooner?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I don’t know if they could have foreseen the spread of these new variants. Because if you notice ‘no, if you look back at the data, as of February 22, that was only the period when we saw the numbers increased, but we had managed already COVID cases in Metro Manila. We got to the point when there was no more than a hundred cases a day ‘no, so it was that good. We maintained it at about 4oo a day ‘no.

But no one could have probably foreseen how infectious these new variants are, and as a result of which we had this ballooning numbers. Now, I have to say, we are not alone in this predicament. Everywhere in the world, we are experiencing the effects of these new variants, but we are coping. And one good thing going for us is that we have learned, we have experience, we know how to cure and we are facing this with no hesitation.

DAVILA: Okay, now, the numbers with testing, the DOH said that the target is a hundred to a hundred thirty thousand a day. And then over the weekend, they posted that they just tested 26,000 people. So imagine ha, for the target of a hundred to one thirty, and they were only testing 26,624 to be exact last Saturday, you have Vice President Leni Robredo, even you have Congresswoman Stella Quimbo, already calling out for stronger recommendations on increase testing for free. Ang sabi noong ilan, parang pinagkakakitaan na raw ang testing, it became private labs doing all the testing. Is free testing even possible at this point? Is there an innovative idea, Secretary, that’s being discussed?

SEC. ROQUE: Well, I was the author of the Universal Health Care Law in the 17th Congress, and part of what we want to offer people is free diagnostic including PCR tests. Now, I would like to point out that testing is virtually free if you are an economic frontliner, a medical frontliner, if you have had exposure or if you have symptoms. So, it is only the asymptomatics without exposure who want to test that will have to pay the required fee. But only you have to declare is that you had been exposed, you had a close contact that will be paid for by PhilHealth.

So I don’t know what VP Robredo is saying because we have always had this protocol and that is why the PRC, the Philippine Red Cross has been billing PhilHealth billions and billions of pesos because it is government that pays for PCR testing. So it is virtually free except for those who have had no contacts and no symptoms and still want to be tested.

Now, tests are also free for returning OFWs ‘no. So it’s virtually for free for those who have any kind of chance of getting COVID-19. Having said that we have taken steps also to use now cheaper test for instance, the antigen test. The antigen test has been validated, at least three brands have been validated by RITM and three brands now can be purchased by government and we are purchasing 500,000 of this antigen.

And we are also appealing and we have made representations with the RITM to proceed also with the validation of saliva PCR test, because the saliva PCR test can cut the cost of PCR test by half minimum, although I hear it can even be more.

DAVILA:  I wanted to ask you in this call for increase testing now which you have so many people making this call, is there an innovative way to do it like to assign it to all LGUs, let say once a week, residents get tested, those who go out to work? I’m curious, how it can be done, that it’s less centralized?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, right now it is done through what is known as the CODE visits. The CODE visits we have identified areas with very high numbers of COVID-19 cases. We have teams led by the barangay health workers and other LGU barangay officials going house to house looking for people with symptoms. Now, those with symptoms are subjected already to test for free, because that is within the coverage of Universal Health Care and of course they are immediately isolated regardless of their results. So that is how we are doing it now, we are not giving to everyone, but we are doing it on a targeted basis, targeting of course the communities with the highest incidence of COVID-19.

DAVILA:  All right. My last question is—I wanted to ask you, Congresswoman Stella Quimbo suggested to focus in… well instead of this, but then it’s already been announced in what you call household lockdowns. It’s sort of a… like reverse isolation, it’s a different way to actually tackle it. I’m curious if in the meeting with the IATF you will be announcing different policies on how to implement and I guess new manner of handling or managing the spread in a different way?

SEC. ROQUE:  Well, what we are doing now is we’re utilizing more and more of our public schools as isolation facilities and we are getting more hotels as isolation facilities too. We are also building temporary isolation facilities of the same type that we already have in Nayong Pilipino.

The problem with reverse isolation is number one, quite frankly, it becomes more expensive because when you isolate them, you have to provide for their meals; and number two, you would need more isolation facilities, because there will be more who don’t have symptoms that need to be isolated or taken care of by government.

So right now, I think the strategy of Oplan Kalinga has worked in the past except that we did not expect the viciousness of these mutations, but we are coping. Because it is more infectious, we are building more isolation facilities and we are urging the people to be more strict in their observance of minimum health standards.

DAVILA:  I wanted to ask you, Secretary, have you been vaccinated already or are you planning too soon?

SEC. ROQUE:  I was in the vaccination yesterday. The lady who processed me said ‘we know you had COVID.’ Because I have comorbidities ‘no, so I scheduled and I went there, I was given a slot, but because I tested positive, she said you have to wait 90 days before you are vaccinated. But I proceed to vaccination center—

DAVILA:  Three months.

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes. And I was very impressed, this was at the Emilio Aguinaldo Elementary School here in Murphy, Quezon City and I would like to thank the doctors there, but they did not give me my vaccination because they reminded me as a positive or someone who tested positive, I need to wait 90 days before I could get my vaccination.

DAVILA:  All right, on that note, Secretary Harry Roque thank you so much. I know you have a presscon, I think this noon time, is it?

SEC. ROQUE:  Yes. It’s going to be a news-laden press conference.

DAVILA:  Thank you very much, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. You stay safe. God bless you, sir.

SEC. ROQUE:  Stay safe too and God bless.

 

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