Over 11,000 OFWs back in their hometowns

MORE than 11,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), among those who have been displaced by the coronavirus global pandemic, have already gone back to their home provinces as of May 25.

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, in a briefing on Tuesday, said a total of 11,848 OFWs who have tested negative for the coronavirus have been provided transport from Manila to different parts of the country.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday ordered national government agencies to pull together all available resources to bring the workers home after many of them have been stuck in quarantine facilities in Manila beyond the 14-day mandatory isolation period.

The Department of Labor and Employment, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the Department of Health have been given a week to organize the return of 24,000 OFWs.

The government is expecting more returning Filipinos in the coming weeks

In a late Monday taped meeting with his Cabinet and other officials, Mr. Duterte also called on local governments to ensure the smooth return of the OFWs to their hometowns.

“Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally. Because it is the national government who declared there is a national emergency involving a pandemic, an issue of health, that — that power cannot be shared by — by anybody else,” Mr. Duterte said.

Local governments have been preparing for the return of OFWs, with most areas requiring them to undergo another 14-day isolation period either in designated quarantine facilities or at home. — Gillian M. Cortez

Health dep’t pulls out coronavirus trial drug after WHO suspension

THE Department of Health has pulled out a medicine that is being tested as treatment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the solidarity trial led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO announced that it is temporarily suspending the use of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as treatment for COVID-19, citing the observational study published by The Lancet that a higher mortality rate was observed among patients who received the drug.

“We follow WHO guidelines on this because this is the WHO solidarity trial,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said in a virtual briefing on Tuesday.

“Rest assured na tayo po ay titigil na muna magbigay nitong gamot dahil ito po ay na-i-rekomenda ng WHO (that we will stop giving this as advised by the WHO),” she added.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on May 25 said the executive group of the solidarity trial decided to suspend administering the drug to review data and evaluate its potential benefits and harms.

The Philippine joined the solidarity trial last month along with other countries to test the effectiveness of four possible treatments for the coronavirus. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Duterte orders probe on medical equipment distributor

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has ordered the investigation of a couple who own a medical equipment distribution firm that allegedly tried to sell overpriced goods to the government for its coronavirus response.

In a taped meeting with his Cabinet and other officials late Monday, Mr. Duterte said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) “should study the matter very, very carefully… whether it’s really an issue of humanity and their greed.”

A couple whose last name is Co, owners of Omnibus Corp., allegedly offered Sansure brand medical equipment to the government for P4.3 million when the actual selling price is around P1.7 million.

The couple also complained that the government did not respect Omnibus’ license as an “exclusive” reseller of Sansure even if there are other local distributors offering the same products.

“The officers from Sansure actually went to the Philippines. I met them last Friday and also yesterday we met them over lunch… We personally requested that if they sell, they sell directly to the Philippines,” said Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher A. Lao during the meeting.

Mr. Lao said the China-based firm Sansure offered to sell at a lower price, through Omnibus, which the government rejected.

“If we allow them (Omnibus) to distribute now at a lower price, we’re giving them a reward for what they have done before. Now that we can go direct to Sansure, we suggest that we bypass them because we can get it cheaper.”

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said there is basis for the NBI to investigate the couple for violations of the anti-profiteering law and under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“There was really almost an attempt to blackmail us into buying something very expensive,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government defended the purchase of allegedly overpriced personal protective gear.

Mr. Lao said the equipment they procured for health frontliners are high grade and unlike reusable protective gear, do not promote growth of viruses and bacteria.

Mr. Duterte, for his part, said, “If you place a person in jeopardy while he is working, especially the doctors, they are fighting for life. Throw it. That’s the reason why we are spending money. And we will spend money.” — Gillian M. Cortez

No clamor for leadership change in DoH, says hospital group president

THE Philippine Hospitals Association on Tuesday said none of its 1,981 members are seeking a change in leadership at the Department of Health (DoH) amid calls for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

Association President Jaime A. Almora said they are “contented” with how the department is handling response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are happy with how things are going, we are happy that we are able to control the spread of the infection. At least we are able to contain it in Manila, and in the provinces, we are not seeing an increase in cases out in the provinces,” he said in a virtual briefing.

“There is no clamor for drastic changes in the leadership in the Department of Health right now. In fact, I have never seen one comment,” he added.

He did acknowledge that there have been complaints from member hospitals, particularly those that have not received personal protective equipment and financial aid from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

“Definitely, tanggalin muna natin ang politika sa ating anti-COVID campaign po. Magtulung-tulongan lang, ‘yun ang focus natin ngayon (let us stop politics in the anti-COVID campaign. Let us help one another, that is our focus for now), to cooperate and make our efforts be united in this fight,” he said.

On the other hand, the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PHAPi) on Monday asked President Rodrigo R. Duterte to replace Mr. Duque, who also heads PhilHealth.

The group cited that some of its members have not received the financial aid from the government-owned insurance company.

“For this reason, the PHAPi, an association of Seven Hundred Forty Four (744) member private hospitals, now respectfully requests for the replacement of Dr. Francisco T. Duque III as DoH Secretary and Chairman of PhilHealth and appoint someone who can deliver the goods better in addressing the health concerns of the country,” it said.

PHAPi said they have high regard for Mr. Duque “but he seems to be already so exhausted that there is need for a fresh blood and a fresh mind to lead the Department of Health and the PhilHealth.” — Vann Marlo M. Villegas