I AM expecting a series of attacks from the keyboard warriors employed by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (Opav) when this column comes out. They did that to their critics on social media. But never mind because I will not engage them. I just want to speak out because this is my stand. This is the campaign slogan of SunStar, “take a stand,” no matter who gets hurt.
But I hope Opav people will understand and take this positively. This is not an attack or a criticism of them, but rather a friendly advice.
My advice for Opav Secretary Michael Dino and his “chief publicist” Assistant Secretary Jonji Gonzales is for them to keep quiet. Dino should not use his power to influence and impose his whims and caprices on local chief executives in their respective Covid-19 responses. Why? Because his move could be misunderstood as having personal agenda, much less taking advantage of the crisis.
This is what happened when he conceptualized the Project Balik Buhay (PBB), which imposed mass rapid testing in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu. He was accused of making money because some quarters suspected that the suppliers of testing kits were his family, dummies, relatives and business associates. In fact, that triggered an online petition addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte for his ouster.
But Dino is doing it again. The mayors of Talisay City, Minglanilla and Consolacion have come out to support two proposals under the PBB. The two PBB guidelines proposed for inclusion in the executive orders that will be issued by the LGUs are randomized testing in business establishments and the suspension of business operations in a company where an employee tests positive for Covid-19. The random testing will be funded by the concerned LGU.
I would like to remind Mayor Samsam Gullas of Talisay City, Mayor Joannes Alegado of Consolacion and Mayor Elanito Peña of Minglanilla that the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) guidelines reminded employers that Covid-19 testing is not a requisite for workers to return to work following the interim guidelines on workers prevention and control of Covid-19 issued on April 30, 2020. Section 7 of the guidelines provides that “employers may test workers for Covid 19. Testing kits used and procured be the responsibility of the employers.”
According to DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo, the joint interim guidelines aim to assist private businesses allowed to resume operations during the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and general community quarantine (GCQ) in developing and enforcing minimum health protocol and standards in the workplace.
Other than covering the cost of the testing kits, employers who choose to test returning employees must comply with DOH guidelines on Expanded Testing for Covid-19 and guidelines for securing license to operate a Covid-19 testing laboratory. The DOH previously reiterated that symptomatic cases will be prioritized for testing due to limited supply of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test kits.
Now, who will shoulder the testing as proposed by Opav? The local government units (LGUs)? Do you think these LGUs have enough budget for this activity? They cannot even give “ayuda” or relief to their constituents during the lockdown. Who will again supply the testing kits? Dino’s allies again?
Can they expect the company to shoulder the expenses when majority of these companies just re-opened after several months of lockdown? It’s a double whammy for these companies. An RT-PCR test will cost P12,000 in a private hospital and laboratory. And why make it a “pack one, pack all” policy? If an employee is found positive, the company will be closed for 14 days? Whattt? Why close the entire company when the management can just tell the infected employee not to report and go on 14-day quarantine and isolation? This is a crazy idea.