Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday admitted that the declaration of a state of public health emergency should have come much earlier and that he should have declared it himself.
Duque made the response when he was questioned by Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate of the Bayan Muna party-list during a hearing on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at the House of Representatives.
Zarate pointed out that under Section 7 of the "Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Law," the Health secretary is given the authority to "declare epidemics of national and/or international concerns except when the same threatens national security."
“Being a member country of the WHO, ipinaubaya po namin sa kanila iyong pag-declare ng public health emergency of international concern. That is the de facto declaration on my part,” Duque said, referring to the World Health Organization.
The WHO declared COVID-19 as a matter of international public health emergency on January 30, 2020—the same day that the Philippines recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case.
Then on March 9, President Rodrigo Duterte — not Duque albeit upon the Health secretary's request — finally declared a state of public health emergency due to COVID-19. At this point, there were already 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As of March 11, there are at least 33 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
Given the subsequent events, Zarate underscored that Duque’s declaration of public health emergency on his own would have made a difference in countering the spread of COVID-19.
“Sa first level, nasa poder po ng Kalihim ang pagdedeclare nito, even before the President declares a state of public health emergency para tayo are forewarned na. Nagkampante tayo eh, just because there were just initially one to three cases, and they were foreigners,” Zarate said.
“Now, we have to delay peak transmission with social distancing and enhanced hygiene, among others. Would you say na dapat ba nag-deklara kayo agad [ng state of public health emergency]?” Zarate added.
At this point, Duque gave in and replied, “Yes, I will concede to that.” — MDM, GMA News