'State of denial:' Robredo tells gov't to stop praising itself, address missed targets in pandemic response

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Stranded passengers take shelter under the NAIA Expressway (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 26) – The national government should reassess its strategies in battling COVID-19 and stop giving itself a pat on the back as cases continue to surge more than 100 days under quarantine, Vice President Leni Robredo said Friday.

Authorities were slow to act and have not caught up with the right policies to curb further coronavirus infections, with more than 33,000 confirmed cases in the Philippines and counting.

"We’re headed in the right direction in the sense that finally we are prioritizing testing, if those are the numbers... Ang layo noong targets na sinet natin for ourselves [We are still far away from the targets we set for ourselves]. While we’re doing a lot of things, every now and then, we have to assess if okay pa ba tayo," Robredo told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Robredo noted that the country is far from maximizing its supposed 50,000 daily testing capacity as facilities are just processing about 15,000-16,000 samples per day. She also raised bottlenecks in the accreditation of hospitals and laboratories who want to run COVID-19 tests, as well as the delayed delivery of protective gear for health workers.

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The government wants to test at least 1.5 percent of the population, or a little over a million Filipinos.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said that the Philippines was among the first in the region to lockdown the local epicenter of the outbreak. However, Robredo pointed out that the government was last to shut down international travel which could have prevented the entry of coronavirus carriers to Metro Manila, and eventually to the rest of the country.

Robredo also countered Roque's statement that people should be comforted with a declining death rate due to the disease, saying: "We should not be satisfied with that because one death is one too many."

At least 1,212 people have died in the country due to COVID-19, according to the Department of Health.

"We have to accept our failures para magawan natin ng paraan... If until now we keep on insisting that we are among the best in Asia, may problema nga tayo [then we have a problem]," she added.

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Compassion needed

Meanwhile, Robredo also called for a more humane handling of ordinary Filipinos caught violating quarantine rules.

She called out the way government is passing the blame to "pasaway" or hard-headed residents for the continued spike in coronavirus cases in the country particularly in Cebu City, saying mobility studies showed most people really stayed at home during quarantine.

"Okay naman sa aking hulihin [sila], pero dapat puso 'yung ginagamit. [It's okay to arrest them, but we should be guided by our hearts.] We have to be more compassionate," the Vice President said, recounting incidents where a former soldier was shot dead in a Quezon City checkpoint while another was allegedly mauled in Cavite. She explained some violators are only heading out to make a living as the lockdown rendered them jobless.

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Another issue is the apparent double standard in apprehending violators, wherein the poor and common folk are jailed for their actions while those in power – like Metro Manila police chief Debold Sinas for his mañanita or birthday party during lockdown – walk free.

"What message are we sending to our people – na kapag nakakaangat ka, hindi mo kailangang magdusa ng ilang gabi sa kulungan pero kapag mahirap ka, kailangan mong pagdusahan iyong violation mo?," the official said, noting that people will cooperate with quarantine rules better if enforcement is fair and uniform.

[Translation: What message are we sending to our people – that if you are rich and powerful, you don't get to be jailed as a consequence of your actions but if you are poor, you have to pay for your violation?]

The process covering locally-stranded and overseas Filipinos who want to head home should also be crafted and communicated to the public properly, Robredo said.

The Office of the Vice President has been flooded with calls for help, which she thinks is out of "desperation" as these people – some of whom took shelter around the Manila airport and under the airport expressway – want to return to their provinces as soon as possible.

The government has been implementing its Hatid Probinsya and Balik Probinsya programs, which some local officials blame for the sudden increase in infections in provinces which were previously COVID-free.