Duterte appoints Cimatu to lead COVID-19 fight in Cebu City

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 23) – President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Monday to lead the COVID-19 fight in Cebu City, as the city grapples with a spike of virus infections during the past week.

In his weekly address to the nation, Duterte emphasized he needed a particular person to contain the spread of the virus in Cebu City.

"If you solve the problem locally amongst the officials there, there’s bound to be a derailment in the programs of government because they would start to blame each other and nobody would try to introduce novel ideas or even to implement one that is already," said Duterte in his speech.

Cebu City is now the leading city in the country with the most number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The Cebu City Health Department reported Tuesday afternoon 30 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 4,479. Of this number, 2,213 are considered active cases.

Some 31 more people have recovered, while seven more succumbed to the disease in Cebu City, it added.

The current situation convinced Duterte to re-order the enhanced community quarantine setting in Cebu City last week.

Cimatu was re-appointed in the same position by Duterte in October 2016, before he was chosen to lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in May 2017.

“All he have to do is just to advise Manila that these things are being done, these things are not yet done, and these things must be done,” said the President.

Duterte also instructed Cimatu to establish an emergency operations center in Cebu City to support local officials in looking to the health situation in the area.

Cimatu, who is present in the weekly Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting, accepted the responsibility given to him by the President.

“I fully accept your challenge you gave. Just like the orders you gave to me before, to Boracay, we changed the cesspool image of Boracay to what it is now,” said Cimatu, referring to his role in leading the cleanup of the world-famous Boracay Island in 2018.

National Task Force on COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. expressed his support in the appointment of Cimatu and vowed to help him in averting the spread of COVID-19 in Cebu City.

“He’s the one who orders us to arrest the Abu Sayyaf. He is a great leader,” said Galvez, also a former military general like Cimatu, in the meeting with Duterte.

The President said he will visit Cebu City to express his displeasure with the "hardheaded" residents.

"Kayong mga taga-Cebu ganun rin eh. Bakit marami? Because you were too confident and too complacent about it. Parang binalewala ninyo, ayan dumating," he said. 

In an interview with CNN Philippines last week, Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella insisted the spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city was due to the intensified mass testing efforts in their area.

He added that around 25,000 Cebu City residents were tested of COVID-19 and emphasized 80 to 90 percent of the positive patients are asymptomatic.

“It is our moral and legal duty to really test, trace, isolate, and treat. That’s why we have this number,” said Labella.

But in a media briefing Tuesday afternoon, Labella admitted they did see a surge of COVID-19 cases after the city declared general community quarantine.

"We still continue to do mass testing, especially now that we were given 1,000 test kits by the Department of Health," Labella said.

"Based on the assessment, there was a backlog that was made part of the data that was given," he added.

Labella also announced Tuesday the approval of a supplemental budget amounting to ₱500 million to provide aid to residents of Cebu City, which is again under enhanced community quarantine.