Marikina mayor ready to face charges for launching COVID-19 testing lab without DOH permit

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 15) — Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said Wednesday he is ready to face charges for opening a testing facility for the coronavirus disease even without accreditation from the Department of Health (DOH).

Teodoro admitted to CNN Philippines that he will be breaking the law when the COVID-19 testing center at Barangay Concepcion Uno opens on Friday, but he said he can no longer put off mass testing for Marikina residents.

“I will be violating the law on the operation of a clinical laboratory when, come Friday, the testing lab in Marikina [opens]. And I will do it. Handa akong harapin, sagutin ang batas, managot ako sa batas,” he said in a phone interview.

Republic Act 4688 requires any person, firm or corporation to obtain a permit from the DOH for operating clinical laboratories. Government-run hospital laboratories are exempted from the law provided their services are extensions of regional or central laboratories.

DOH spokesperson Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire cautioned the local government of Marikina against operating the COVID-19 testing facility without the necessary permits, saying it might cause “undue harm.”

She said Marikina’s laboratory is only 80 percent to 90 percent completed, as its personnel have yet to undergo the safety training organized by the DOH scheduled for Monday next week.

Teodoro, however, insisted that the personnel hired by the local government are qualified, as they are trained by their partner, the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH).

“’Wag niyong isipin sana na hindi qualified at trained itong personnel namin. All the trainings they are requiring are only confirmatory trainings,” he said.

Teodoro expressed frustration at the “bureacratic red tape” at the DOH, which he said has been hampering the city government’s efforts to test residents for COVID-19.

“We have the expertise. Nagiging bureaucratic lang ang approach nila eh. Nagiging mahirap, highly regulated. And I think there should be some flexibility and urgency sa license to operate,” the mayor said.

Marikina’s COVID-19 testing laboratory is capable of processing up to 400 samples daily. Two dedicated ambulance units will be picking up samples from hospitals and testing centers for delivery to the laboratory. A molecular pathologist will always on duty to run the tests.

Teodoro said social distancing and contact tracing were not enough to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in Marikina, which have reached 73 as of Wednesday.

“We would like to take the offensive strategy of testing, treating at the earlier stage and do the isolation for all those affected,” he said.