MANILA — The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said on April 18, President Rodrigo Duterte’s suggestion to takeover hotels to increase COVID-19 health facilities during a taped public address on April 15, is only a “last resort.”

“It is too early (to say whether the NCR Plus would be placed under GCQ). You know our process. The IATF makes the assessment during the last of the month to check the latest numbers and to come up with a good assessment,” IATF co-chairman Cabinet Sec. Karlo Nograles told radio station dzBB.

“We will have a discussion on what to recommend to the President in the last week of April. That being said, what do we need to do? Right now, our focus is to increase our bed capacities,” Nograles added.

On April 12, NCR Plus (Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal) was downgraded to the more relaxed Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) as more hospitals agreed to allocate more beds for COVID-19 patients following the return to enhanced community quarantine from March 29 to April 11 as infections soar.

In a report by The Philippine Star, officials said that a shift to a more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ) will only happen if COVID-19 numbers improve.

As of April 19, the Philippines has 788,322 total COVID-19 cases after logging 9,628 new infections, 9,266 new recoveries and 88 deaths.

Nograles said a government takeover of private facilities is allowed under “existing laws,” noting they remain optimistic it will not be needed as they can increase COVID-19 treatment isolation centers.

“That (takeover) is already the last resort. That will be the last (measure to be undertaken) when necessary because we are in a state of public health emergency. But that’s really, really, really last resort,” Nograles said.

“Now, our focus is to build up our capacities. We’re confident that we’ll be able to do it. It really needs coordination with the private sector. That’s why the order for PhilHealth to already start paying is important because it will provide new capital to hospitals to increase their ICU (intensive care unit) beds and their bed capacity,” he added.

According to officials, during the ECQ, more than 3,000 beds have been added to the healthcare capacity in NCR Plus following President Duterte’s order for the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to settle the unpaid claims of hospitals.

“I am not without power. When we are pushed to the wall, either by the microbe itself or by external, internal, I can always order the military and the police to go there and confiscate the operation of the hotels,” Duterte said in a report by the Philippine News Agency (PNA), noting he will not hesitate in case National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chief implementer Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Sec. Francisco Duque III tell him that hospitals have reached full capacity.

Sabihin ko sa hotel, adre, pasensya ka na. Kailangan ko ‘yong hotel mo. Hiramin ko lang,” he added, while also acknowledging, “That is not really what you would call a remedy desired in a democratic state.”

‘Unnecessary’

In another report by Manila Bulletin, Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros told CNN Philippines, “At the end of his sentence, even the President realized, in his own words, that is not a remedy. And we don’t need to employ such drastic steps if from the start, we boosted our health facilities,” she said, noting “the government still has ₱9 billion appropriated by Congress under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 to address the need to build temporary isolation or quarantine facilities”.

“So, for the President to now say that, okay, ‘I will command the PNP and the AFP to take over hotels,’ that should not be necessary,” she added.

Hontiveros said she also find it “inappropriate” for the President to issue such statements.

“So, this is the second year of the pandemic…The President should not be speaking in those terms,” she said.

“From the start, during the first year, he should have set into motion those evidence-based true responses to a COVID-19 pandemic without such preferred male-fisted approached on his part, without drama, without panic, like what other countries did,” she said.

“If he did, we could have saved more lives and saved the economy from this recession.”

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