Presidential photo/Simeon Celi Jr.

President assures Red Cross of payment for COVID-19 tests

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte promised that the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will settle its over P900 million debt to the Philippine Red Cross for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tests.

“We will pay. It will take time but we will pay. We’ll look for the money,” Mr. Duterte said in a televised talk on Monday evening, stressing that health concerns is a government priority.

He added that the government is finding a way to “make both ends meet” while the country faces the economic backlash of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, meanwhile, said PhilHealth still has funds to pay its dues with the Red Cross.

The state insurer, he said in a briefing on Tuesday, “will never run out of funds” because the Universal Health Care law provides that the government is responsible for the “viability of PhilHealth.”

The Philippine Red Cross announced last week that it will temporarily stop accepting RT-PCR tests chargeable to PhilHealth until the agency settles its outstanding balance of over P900 million.

The unsettled obligation of PhilHealth comes amid corruption allegations within the organization.

The task force appointed by the President to probe anomalies in the agency has already recommended the filing of charges against former and current top officials. — Gillian M. Cortez

Solon calls for stricter guidelines on PPE, medical waste disposal

A LAWMAKER has filed a resolution calling on the national task force in charge of the coronavirus response to implement stricter guidelines on the disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical wastes.    

In House Resolution 1244, Party-list Rep. Michael Edgar Y. Aglipay urged the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to set measures that will help mitigate the further spread of the virus as well as protect the environment.

“There is an impressive increase in testing and treatment facilities. Such occurrences have unintentionally resulted in an incremental increase in medical waste. It has likewise been reported that such medical waste is carelessly disposed,” Mr. Aglipay said. “If not managed, such waste is not properly managed, such may lead to an environmental disaster.”

Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) show that the country generated over 19,000 metric tons of infectious healthcare waste from April to late July. “The proper disposal of such medical waste is not only a vital part in defeating COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), but also a means to ensure that future generations have a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature as guaranteed by no less than the 1987 Philippine Constitution,” he said.

Environmental group EcoWaste Coalition earlier called on the IATF and local government units to address the “very worrisome” practice of throwing discarded masks and other PPE on the streets and other public places.

The group also urged the government to mandate businesses to practice waste segregation. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

DoH reiterates appeal for parents to have their children vaccinated

THE HEALTH department again appealed for parents’ cooperation to ensure that children get vaccinated against diseases as health service operations are back in full swing.

“We cannot understate the value of vaccines,” Maria Wilda T. Silva, program manager of the Department of Health (DoH) National Immunization Campaign, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“All of the health centers are back in operation and providing the routine immunization services,” Ms. Wilda said in an online briefing, adding that community outreach and door-to-door services are being undertaken in some areas.

She also reminded parents to ensure that their children get complete doses of available vaccines.   

“For parents, please bring your children to the health center because it’s very important that all of these vaccines will be received at the right time, the right dose, at kung may na-miss (and if one was missed), we have provision for catch up,” she said.

She said that unvaccinated children from 2019 up to the first half of 2020 is estimated at around 1.1 million.

The DoH will be conducting measles, rubella, and oral poliomyelitis vaccine campaigns from October 26 to November 25.

Physician Mary Ann C. Bunyi said herd immunity, wherein a “proportion of individuals who developed resistance against a specific pathogen,” is achieved through vaccination or natural infections.

“The greater the portion of a population that is immune or less susceptible to a disease, the lower is the probability that a susceptible person will come in contact with an infectious person,” she said in a briefing.

“It does not mean that everyone has to be immune to prevent spread of the disease but the majority will protect the few susceptible people,” she added. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Investigators confirm ‘hierarchy’ at work in immigration illegal entry scheme

THE NATIONAL Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Tuesday said a pyramid structure was in place for the operation of the scheme that eased entry of Chinese nationals for a bribe.

NBI Special Action Unit Chief Emeterio Dongallo, Jr., speaking during a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, said evidence gathered indicate that that there was “hierarchy” in the money-making scheme.

In previous sessions of the Senate probe, Immigration Officers Jeffrey Dale Ignacio and Allison Chiong both said the scheme operates under a pyramid or a hierarchical structure, led by Marc Red A. Mariñas, a former head of the Bureau of Immigration Port Operations Division.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is leading the committee investigation, pointed out that “command responsibility” applies to Mr. Mariñas as the scheme happened under his watch.

She also raised the missing statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of Mr. Mariñas for years 2014-2016 and 2018.

Mr. Mariñas denied allegations that he is behind the scheme and has profited from it. In the same hearing, Ms. Baraquel also questioned the involvement of Immigration Deputy Commissioner J. Tobias M. Javier after a witness said he is the commissioner preferred to handle administrative cases.

Mr. Javier in response stood by his integrity, noting that in the fact-finding committee report, he recommended administrative charges against the respondents.

“I think I have to divulge the result for the reason that my name is being dragged here… The result is actually averse to all of them, to the respondents. We recommended that they be administratively charged for the conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service and grave misconduct,” he said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan   

Duterte laments drug use remains rampant despite campaign

PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte on Monday expressed frustration that illegal drug use remains rampant in the country despite his controversial drug war.

In a televised talk on Monday evening, he said “two in 100” Filipinos use drugs actively, or 1.67 million individuals as corrected by the Palace.

Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, in a briefing on Tuesday, clarified the President’s statement saying this does not necessarily mean the campaign was ineffective.

“What the President is saying,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino, “is that is a cornerstone of his administration. As long as the threat remains… it will be given the highest priority.”

Eliminating illegal drugs within six months was one of the main campaign promises of Mr. Duterte when he ran for office in 2016.

Based on police record, 6,000 have died in the government’s campaign against drugs, but human rights groups said the death toll is over 30,000. — Gillian M. Cortez