"We should not change horses in the middle of the stream, but it won’t hurt to dump a few deadweights along the way."
The Department of Health is supposed to be the lead agency, if not one of the lead agencies, in the fight against COVID-19. Unfortunately, it seems Secretary Francisco Duque is fast losing control of his troops as manifested in a series of major blunders.
First, there was that “encoding error” in the results of the testing for House Appropriations chair, ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap, which triggered panic in Malacañang. Yap came into contact with persons close to President Rodrigo Duterte when the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act was presented to the chief Executive last week. In fact, the Presidential Security Guard was even preparing to file charges against the lawmaker for endangering the life of the President through possible exposure to the virus.
Then the other day, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a press briefing, said that the first Coronavirus disease 2019 test kits received from China were only 40-percent accurate.
The xenophobic critics of the administration were quick to pounce of Vergeire’s statement denouncing China and its effort to help the country cope with the pandemic. But before noon, yesterday, the China Embassy in Manila issued a strongly worded statement against Vergiere’s pronouncement.
“The Embassy of China in the Philippines took note of reports about the comments of a Philippine Department of Health (DOH) official regarding the accuracy of the test kits donated by China,” the statement read.
According to the statement, the Embassy immediately checked with DOH and according to the clarification of the DOH, “the two batches of 2,000 BGI PCR-type test kits and 100,000 Sansure PCR-type test kits donated by the Chinese government have been assessed by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to be at par with World Health Organization-provided kits, and those test kits are of high quality and standards and have no accuracy problems, which are being used in Philippine test laboratories and have helped accelerate the testing process.”
Further, the test kits mentioned by Vergiere in her press briefing last Saturday were found to have been neither tested by RITM which did not receive any kit sample for lab validation nor donated by the Chinese government.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Embassy said China has continually provided assistance as needed to support the Philippines' battle against the epidemic.
“At this moment of crisis, we should fight in solidarity to overcome the epidemic at the earliest date. The Chinese Embassy firmly rejects any irresponsible remarks and any attempt to undermine our cooperation in this regard,” the statement added.
Aware his agency committed a diplomatic faux pas, Duque immediately sent a text message to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian which read: “Hi! There is nothing wrong with the real time polymerase chain reaction machine which is used for generating positive or negative result as the case may be!”
“Again your test kits BGI and Sansure Biotechnology are very good and up to the standards as those which were donated by WHO and approved by our RITM. Again, our gratitude and appreciation to you and Chinese Government,” Duque stressed in his text message which was made available to the media by the Chinese Embassy.
This is one hell of a blunder which the President could not just let pass by. actually, this is not the first time Duque had shown his biases against China’s effort to extend assistance to the government’s fight against COVID-19.
Last week, Duque reportedly blocked the entry of Chinese doctors who have volunteered to join local doctors at the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. But an irate Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin lambasted Duque in his social media account for his refusal to let the doctors come to the country, and threatened the Health Secretary with the words: “Don’t piss me off!”
Duque had to oblige and explain that he refused at first to let the Chinese doctors come because of a misunderstanding on who would assume responsibility over the interpreters although it was very clear from Locsin’s media account that the Chinese General Hospital had already agreed to shoulder the responsibility over the issue of interpreters.
Since the start, Duque has been highly criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 situation. He had been accused of withholding information and holding the release of PPE. He has also been accused of sitting on the accreditation of rapid test kits, even as he remains silent on Senator Manny Pacquaio’s use of such.
Such criticisms are not helping a bit in the fight against this deadly virus. Duque’s irresponsibility is taking its toll on the Duterte administration.
I maintain that we should not change horses in the middle of the stream. Still, it would not hurt to dump a few deadweights along the way.