As the nation mourns the passing of former President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III, many have come to wonder what he would have done should he face the issues of today.
On Tuesday, a post by Gherald Edaño that made the rounds on Facebook showed a video clip of the former president answering questions about the Philippines’ capability to handle a pandemic.
The video clip featured Mr. Aquino in an interview with Prof. Michael Genovese for his honorary degree at Loyola Marymount University in March 2016.
In one of the questions, Aquino was asked about the Philippines’ capability to handle rising pandemics during that time.
Aquino said that although the effort was not perfect, the country was able to contain the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.
The viral respiratory illness caused by MERS-CoV surfaced during his term. According to CDC, it was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and had since spread to other countries. Most of the infected people “developed severe respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Many of them have died.”
“For instance, the MERS coronavirus, we were told 12 hours after our citizen has landed in Manila that he was tested positive for the virus. This was a period, we’re a heavily Catholic country, this was Holy Week, Wednesday, when the whole country shuts down and that’s when we were informed of the emergency,” said the former president. “We’ve followed the whole guidelines but we added our own.”
When the citizen flew in, Aquino said those at risk would be the people surrounding him—three people in the front, three on each side, and those at the back.
After speaking with the flight crew, it was known that the person was traveling with three members of his family and staff members.
“There were five of them. Now we’re going to check on just the three people per the immediate vicinity. They never stood up to go to the washroom. They never talked to somebody in a different row, etcetera, because we’re supposed to necessitate direct physical contact,” he said.
“So at the end of the day, I ordered our agencies ... the Department of Health, law enforcement, etcetera, to look for all, I think 418 passengers, at that point in time. We were successful.”
When the man, a medical professional, was found, the administration had him tested again but the results came out negative.
“I asked our doctors. ‘Our test method is different from where he came from?’ Said there’s only one test. ‘How can he be positive there and negative here? Our test kits out of date? We just finished the whole inventory so what happened?’ Perhaps the disease has already coursed through him,” he said.
“The bottom line was in a period of time when the government was also shut down, we had enough people to be able to trace practically everybody and to refine the systems on how to monitor people entering the country.”
According to a news report on May 2014, the Department of Health said the country remained free of MERS-CoV 21 days after the male Filipino nurse came back home with the virus.
Of the 414 people on board the flight to the Philippines, which carried the male nurse, 401 tested negative for MERS-CoV while the remaining 13 passengers were four foreigners who had already left the country and nine people who could not be contacted.
Aquino also recalled the time when there were Filipino peacemakers in Libera when the Ebola epidemic happened.
“Fortunately, [they] were not infected; they were isolated. I had to make a decision ... there was a situation when the medical infrastructure or the doctors, the nurses were no longer reporting to the hospitals ... we had to get our citizen back,” Aquino said.
“We brought them back home. They got isolated in an island and everybody was cleared after the lengthiest incubation period on record.”
Aquino said that aside from being in communication with other countries and the World Health Organization, the administration also invested in facilities that could help combat the virus.
“We invested in facilities that can help us identify the virus and isolate the people who have the sickness and we’re very, very serious. We have laws that can help us in terms of isolating potentially carriers of this,” he added.
Nonetheless, Aquino clarified that the Philippines was still vulnerable, especially because millions of citizens made up its population.
“For instance, the seafaring world. I understand that a third to a fourth of seafarers are Filipinos, so the job of a Philippine president when he reads the papers in the morning and gets all of the intel reports from so many sources, is what is happening and where in the world and are any Filipinos involved?” he said. “So the pandemic is just another facet or potential facet.”
He added, “again we have taken an attitude of, let us err on the side of caution. Instead of just looking for the person who is infected and the three on each side, let’s check the whole plane.”
Aquino, the 15th President of the Philippines, passed away on June 24 at the age of 61 due to renal disease secondary to diabetes. He was laid to rest June 26 at Manila Memorial Park beside his parents, former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. – RC, GMA News