By Macon Araneta

Describing it as toxic micro-management,  Sen. Risa Hontiveros wants to investigate the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for assigning Cabinet  secretaries  to various local government units (LGU)  to monitor their COVID-19 response.

Hontiveros also cited reports the IATF Cabinet  members, who have been called “Big Brothers,” intervene at the barangay level. 

She filed on August 17 Senate Resolution number 495 urging the proper Senate committee to investigate, in aid of legislation, IATF Resolution number 62, which assigned  Cabinet secretaries to the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal. 

While the IATF members, are arguably experts in their respective fields, Hontiveros said they are not experts nor do they have any experience in health system performance, critical care capacity and surveillance, isolation and treatment protocols. 

“It is also rather imprudent to assign these members to monitor LGUs when IATF as a body has already been saddled with controversies involving its policy decisions and pronouncements, the accuracy and integrity of the data reported and even some allegedly anomalous procurement-related transactions,” also said Hontiveros. 

The Akbayan senator said the Senate has previously raised concerns about the procurement of overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE), the Department of Health’s erroneous COVID-19 data, as well as the credibility of the IATF Chairperson Sec. Francisco Duque (particularly his flip-flop pronouncements on the wave of COVID-19 infections in the country.) This, she said, should set off alarm bells about allowing IATF to interfere with the LGUs’ affairs. 

“The members of the IATF, many of whom have no background in local governments or pandemic response, are unnecessarily overstepping. What the LGUs need is a coherent national COVID management strategy, not undue interference,” the Senator said.

Hontiveros also questioned the rationale behind how the cabinet members were assigned to their respective LGUs.

“Why is Sec. Harry Roque assigned in Pasay? Shouldn’t he be focusing on his job as a presidential spokesperson? And why is Sec. Duque in Quezon City, when as Secretary of the Department of Health, he should be overseeing the overall management of the COVID-19 response? And why did, Sec. Nograles after being assigned in Quezon City, said QC  residents can join clinical trials of vaccines from Russia? Was that their plan? It seemed there was  no mukhang data or science on this decision,” she said.

“Let’s just trust the LGUs. The mayors have more knowledge and have been on the ground for a long time. The IATF should do its mandate and give an effective strategy, plane and support,” the Senator said. 

On the other hand, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also questioned the designation of “Big Brothers” in charge of respective LGUs, saying they need competent and upright national government leaders in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t see how giving the national government more powers over the LGUs will help. It will be another layer in the already highly-centralized yet ineffective COVID-19 response,” he added.

The Senator stressed the national government officials had all the powers and resources at their disposal yet still failed to reach their targets in the fight against COVID-19.

“Why give more powers to those whose performance leaves much to be desired?” Pangilinan said.

Through a resolution of the IATF for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Cabinet members have been tasked to strictly monitor the health system performance, critical care capacity, and stringent compliance to surveillance, isolation and treatment protocols of their cities and towns assigned to each of them.

This came as the Philippines remains the Southeast Asian country with the most number of COVID-19 cases at over 150,000 infections.

While there are national policies on COVID-19 response that every local government must follow, Pangilinan said local executives should be given leeway in implementing these as the one-size fits-all approach envisioned by the IATF’s big brother scheme to gain control of the virus could actually have a detrimental effect in helping constituents survive the crisis.