KAREN DAVILA: On Hot Copy this morning, the Office of the Vice President has begun a free teleconsult service to decongest hospitals. The initiative aims to provide medical assistance to outpatient cases, especially those with limited access to doctors. It is a privilege to have her once again this morning. We have with us Vice President Leni Robredo. Madam Vice President, good morning to you!
VP LENI: Good morning, Karen! Good morning, everyone.
KAREN DAVILA: All right. Let’s start first—just yesterday, you already launched itong e-telecon. And itong E-Konsulta, you actually had an impressive number of volunteers who signed up, at least what I read last is 2,300. Is it still the latest number?
VP LENI: We stopped after 24 hours, Karen. We announced the call—we did the call Monday evening and we stopped getting volunteers Tuesday evening because we had quite a lot already. What we want now, Karen, is... it is just a temporary stoppage but we wanted to have everyone on board already. So what we did the entire day yesterday—Wednesday and yesterday—we were meeting with batches of volunteers so that we can prepare them with the protocols that we will be following.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay.
VP LENI: Of the 2,300, Karen, about 500 are doctors. the rest are people who want to help with the back-end operations.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay. Madam Vice President, para maintindihan ng tao, marami ang naano, marami ang teleconsulting right now, maraming telemedicine, but what makes E-Konsulta different? What makes this unique?
VP LENI: Actually, Karen, we already posted on our Facebook pages all the links, all the numbers of all the existing teleconsultation platforms available. But the problem is, we were still getting a lot of calls. We were still getting a lot of messages asking help. And I think one of the reasons is that not all of the teleconsultation platforms existing are accessible to the people. Halimbawa, karamihan sa kanila would need internet connection. Kaya iyong ginawa natin, it’s available on free data, via Facebook siya. It’s been difficult, Karen. It’s been difficult in the sense that we had to go through—
KAREN DAVILA: Ah, Facebook ito, Vice President? Facebook, okay.
VP LENI: Messages. We created a new Facebook page. The name of the Facebook page is Bayanihan E-Konsulta. So nagpost kami sa aming existing Facebook pages how to access and then you do that on Messenger because Facebook and Messenger are both available on free data. So para iyong mga walang data available, they can avail of the service.
KAREN DAVILA: What about landline? I’m curious if you’ve thought of that. Is that a possibility?
VP LENI: Puwede ang landline, Karen, when the doctors speak to the patients already. Pero when they register, it’s really Facebook unless we receive messages from other sources and then what we do is even if they don’t go through the Bayanihan E-Konsulta Messenger app, we still get the details of people who contact us. Halimbawa sa Facebook, Karen, ang dami sa akin nagko-contact. So what I do is I include them in the platform and then our agents call the patients and link them to available doctors.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay. Now let’s say the person is COVID-19 positive. Ayaw pumunta sa ospital. What happens now are the doctors licensed or—I will say, will nurses call or hindi naman? Only doctors?
VP LENI: We have actually have volunteer medical professionals who are non-doctors. So what we have now, Karen, is we have several teams operating. Mayroon kaming parang triage doon. When the take the initial data from the patient, mayroon na doong mga doktor. Mayroon na doong mga doktor na nag-a-advise sa triage kung kanino iyong pasyente ili-link. So parang… parang we have a number of stages and we have specialists who see patients upon the recommendation of the general practitioners.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay, and puwedeng magreseta ang mga doktor? Anything on COVID-19 management?
VP LENI: Yeah, yeah.
KAREN DAVILA: Will the doctors say, “you have to—I have to refer you to the One Hospital Command.” “We have to move you to a quarantine facility.” Iyon ba ang rule?
VP LENI: Iyon iyong rule, Karen. Mayroon kaming mga prompts. We have questions which would determine whether or not the patient would need emergency care. Kasi iyong pinaka-concept noong teleconsult namin for outpatients. Ito iyong mga outpatient na won’t need to go to hospital but would need to talk to a doctor for medical advice. Pero when the doctor deems it necessary that this particular patient needs to be seen in a hospital or needs to be in hospital confinement, we have another team na sumasalo.
KAREN DAVILA: Ah. I see.
VP LENI: And, Karen, iyon iyong aming problema. Iyon iyong aming problema because we have to operate—parang under the protocols that we have. Kaya kami, iyong mga kailangan dalhin sa ospital, kami iyong nagko-contact sa One Hospital Command.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay, so just very quickly, you have 500 doctors right now. Is this 24 hours? Itong E-Konsulta, Vice President?
VP LENI: Not yet. Kasi right now, Karen, nag-o-onboard kami. Ang gustong sabihin, we have sessions with the doctors to discuss with them the processes, the protocols that we need to follow. Parang kahapon, we were able to onboard, if I am not mistaken, more than 50. So iyon pa lang iyong… parang, hindi sila magte-take in ng patients nang hindi sila onboard din. Para we operate on a single, parang protocol lang. So ngayon, every day, Karen, kahapon nakailang onboarding kami and today ganoon na naman. Iyong first batch of doctors who onboarded already, nag-duty na kahapon.
KAREN DAVILA: So para lang malinaw, ano, let’s say, I’m going to register. Gusto kong magpakonsulta nang libre. I go on Facebook. I’ll write my name. Pati ba cellphone ko may hihingiing data. Tapos tatawag ang doktor sa akin? Ganoon po ba iyon?
VP LENI: Actually agent namin iyong tumatawag. Agent namin iyong tumatawag tapos kino-connect niya iyong pasyente sa doktor. Kasi kami naman, Karen, we don’t want to burden the doctors too much. Ayaw naman naming sila pa iyong gagastos ng load kasi volunteers lang sila, eh. So iyong ginagawa namin, mayroon kaming sistema na nili-link namin sila. Nili-link namin sila. So ang ginagawa, when you enter our website, pupunta ka sa Messenger. Pupunta ka sa Messenger tapos there are set of questions na tinatanong sa inyo. Tapos iyon iyong pagdecide kung papaano siya iha-handle. Halimbawa kapag emergency, iyong mga red flags, binabato na agad siya sa isang team.
KAREN DAVILA: Oo, all right. And quickly, how quick should the response be? Let’s say nag-register ako today. Ano dapat ang protocol ninyo? Gaano kabilis dapat ang linking?
VP LENI: Depende, Karen. Mayroon kaming mga codes. Mayroon kaming mga codes na halimbawa, iyong red dapat immediate. Tapos iyong susunod doon iyong yellow dapat within the day. Tapos basta ano siya, parang may mga stages. But we send them messages to, parang to inform them what they are waiting for. Nagkaproblema lang kami, Karen, during our first day kasi we weren’t expecting na iyong influx grabe, ng magmemessage. Na-flag kami ng Facebook so were not able to use the system—
KAREN DAVILA: Ah, how many? How many messaged you? Already for consultation?
VP LENI: A hundred plus during the first few hours. Pero ang problema, Karen, mayroon kasing mga—halimbawa, when you go through… when you enter Messenger, parang you will type too long, the prompt, if you need teleconsultation services. Sa dami ng tulong na pumasok, iyon yata iyong—parang may automatic na na-flag iyong Facebook. AI yata iyong nagfa-flag. Sumara iyong sistema namin.
KAREN DAVILA: Is it open now?
VP LENI: It’s open now. It was down for a few hours last Wednesday. So we were able to push through again Wednesday evening. So kahapon, medyo marami iyong aming backlog. And I—ngayong araw will still be devoted to catching up para doon sa backlog of the first day.
KAREN DAVILA: All right. But I think it’s good to know na talagang malaman ng tao na may option kasi na may makausap silang doktor.
Let’s discuss the Swab Cab. It was a success, many have said. And you first went to Malabon. That was the first area you targeted. Let’s get the details of that. How many were swabbed and what is the operation? Like for example, is there a protocol before you swab someone? What is taken? Paano ginagawa, Ma’am?
VP LENI: Iyon, Karen. That’s why we have received a lot of requests already for the Swab Cab pero we need partnership with the LGU kasi we have a lot of limitations. Iyong pinaka-first step, Karen, iyong LGU will identify who will be swabbed kasi hindi naman namin alam iyong area. Hindi namin alam iyong area. So ang mga pinapadala nila those with symptoms, those who were contact traced, or surveillance testing in areas, in communities where the transmission is high.
KAREN DAVILA: And you do this for free? It’s coming from the Office of the Vice President. So let’s be specific. Like the Swab Cab last Monday for Malabon, so that was swab antigen, ano?
VP LENI: Yes.
KAREN DAVILA: Swab antigen, okay. How many did you swab? How many kits? I’m sure some were spoiled. Some had to be—some weren’t used. Paano?
VP LENI: Mga almost 1,300 people, Karen. Mga 1,300 people were swabbed.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay. And how much does the office spend? Like for example, the Swab Cab in Malabon that you have volunteers, you have to feed them, you have to buy antigen tests for over a thousand people, what is the budget for something like that? If you have a businessman watching now and want to donate, let’s say, Swab Cab in Pasay and there’s big business in Pasay and will say, “Let me just donate this one Swab Cab day sa Office of the Vice President for Pasay.” How much is spent?
VP LENI: Actually, Karen, iyong first—iyong Malabon run kasi we did not spend for the antigen tests because there were donations. There were donations. So we used the donations—these are donations to Kaya Natin. It was Kaya Natin who bought the antigen tests. Pero we have appropriated already. Parang after Malabon, we have bought antigen tests already for the runs in other LGUs.
KAREN DAVILA: And how much did you appropriate, considering, you know, you have limited funds, how much were you able to appropriate for these antigen tests?
VP LENI: Actually, ako, Karen, I’m not very sure of the exact amount pero I believe we are appropriating for 22,000 more antigen tests. Because iyong initial na donated namin 3,000. Right now, parang iyong first batch that the Office of the Vice President will be spending for is another 22,000 antigen tests. Kami, Karen, we’re buying FDA-approved antigen tests. Iyong first batch ang alam ko Abbott. Abbott iyong aming binili. I don’t know itong susunod. Pero, Karen, we had a lot of lessons in Malabon.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay, what were the lessons?
VP LENI: Halimbawa, Karen, iyong first day, we wanted to swab 1,500 people. Pero iyong first day, a lot of those who were identified by the barangays. A lot of those identified by the LGUs didn’t want to be swabbed. Didn’t want to be swabbed. Most of them were afraid that, you know, if they test positive, they will be put to isolation centers and if they are brought to the isolation centers, they won’t be able to work. So if they won’t be able to work, walang kakainin iyong pamilya. Ang iba naman, may inaalagaan na anak, “ayaw akong dalhin sa isolation center. Walang mag-aalaga sa anak ko.” So iyon iyong nangyari sa first day. Kaya first day, Karen, we were only able to swab, I think, a little over 500. Noong bumalik kami noong Tuesday—kasi iyong una namin iyong Holy Week tapos bumalik kami noong Tuesday—noong bumalik kami noong Tuesday, mayroon na kaming incentives. Mayroon na kaming incentives na for every person na magpapa-swab, nagbigay kami ng bigas. Nagbigay kami ng bigas.
KAREN DAVILA: That’s quite innovative. Okay, so kapag lahat na nagpapaswab binibigyan niyo ng bigas o kapag nagpa-positive, binibigyan niyo ng bigas?
VP LENI: Iba pa iyong package sa nag-positive, Karen. Sa nag-positive mas marami. It’s an entire package na para to assure the person who tested positive na may kakainin iyong pamilya niya habang nasa isolation center siya. So iyon iyong unang… iyon iyong unang lesson. Iyong pangalawang lesson, iyong quality ng isolation center. Kasi marami rin iyong tao na ayaw magpa-swab kasi hindi komportable. Kasi hindi komportable doon sa isolation center. So the first day that we were swabbing, Karen, nagse-set up din kami ng isolation center. And ito na lang, LGU Malabon has been very, very cooperative. Mayroong isang paaralan doon na buti na lang pinahiram ng LGU Malabon, we converted that into tents para may privacy iyong bawat isa, inayos namin iyong mga banyo, nilagyan namin iyong mga facilities na—
KAREN DAVILA: So you spent for that, too? The Office spent for that? The isolation center? Hindi na iyon mura, Ma’am.
VP LENI: Yes. Ano siya, Karen, actually we used—most of the resources that we—that was included in the isolation center we already had, like the tents. Iyong mga tents na nilagay namin doon, may tents na talaga kami, Karen, because we lend these tests kapag mayroong mga sakuna. Kapag may mga nasunugan, mayroong bagyo, etc. So gumamit kami noon. Iyong mga mattresses namin, donated. Iyong mattresses, donated. Iyong binili yata namin, if I’m not mistaken, mga beddings. Bumili din kami, Karen, ng mga kits. Ito iyong parang may mga COVID kits na nandoon iyong mga vitamins na iinumin, iyong mga paracetamol, iyong para sa ubo, mayroong pulse oximeter, mayroong thermometer, the basics that every COVID positive patient need to have.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay, so quickly on this, if I remember correctly, in 1,500 people you tested under the Swab Cab in Malabon, is it right, five tested positive?
VP LENI: No, 80.
KAREN DAVILA: Eighty. Oh, I’m sorry.
VP LENI: Almost 1,300, not 1,500.
KAREN DAVILA: All right. And the 80 now who tested positive are now in the isolation centers you put up. You set aside food for the families. Is it correct?
VP LENI: Yes. Actually, Karen, when we learned our lesson from the first day, iyong second day ang ginawa na namin, Karen, may naghihintay ng ambulansya katabi ng Swab Cab. So that every time a person tests positive, hinihiwalay na kaagad siya. So iyong ambulansya, dadalhin na siya kaagad doon sa isolation center and then kino-contact trace na immediately. This is the beauty about antigen tests because we get results 15 to 20 minutes after. So nakahanda na iyong BHERTs ng barangay. Kapag may nagpositive, nagko-contact trace na siya sa pamilya, sa mga kapitbahay, so dadalhin nila sa Swab Cab iyong mga kapamilya, mga kapitbahay.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay. Is this how you define mass testing? Because one of your recommendations last Easter is really other than prevention, is to ramp up mass testing, you and Congresswoman Stella Quimbo, in which the testing czar Vince Dizon said, “No, I don’t agree with mass testing. It should be risk and targeted only.” But there seems to be a confusion for some on the definition of mass testing when it’s quite clear with the DOH, the British Medical Journal, how mass testing is defined. So is this the mass testing for you in actuality?
VP LENI: Actually, Karen, I’m very careful not to use mass testing. Mass testing in communities where transmission is high. Pero hindi mass testing na buong Pilipinas tine-test. Sa akin, mas targeted siya. You do a lot of testing in communities where transmission is very high. And if you look at all the best practices of countries who were quite successful with their COVID-19 response, this was one of the basics that they did. Halimbawa, Karen, iyong Vietnam. Iyong Vietnam, napaka-proactive nila as far as mass testing is concerned. Once they detect that there is community transmission, they do mass testing already in that particular community. Ang kabutihan nito they are able to detect… they are able to detect very early. So kapag na-detect nila, they are able to do aggressive contact tracing and they are able to isolate. Kapag ganito kasi, Karen, hindi na nagse-spread. Kasi para sa akin, halimbawa, we were able to test 80 people who tested positive. So sa akin lang, kung hindi sila na-test positive, baka gumagala-gala pa. Hindi nila alam na mayroon na pala sila. So iyong sa akin, we have to be quite proactive as far as tesing is concerned kasi iyong sa amin, Karen, it was easier to convince people to get themselves tested kasi iyong testing nandoon na sa labas ng bahay nila. Pero if you will ask them, pipila ka sa ganitong ospital for testing, talagang ayaw.
KAREN DAVILA: Yeah, yeah. That’s very interesting. And you did say, you’re careful to use the word “mass testing.” It’s technically only for communities wherein transmission is very high. Someone tested positive so you mass test within that community. VP, I just wanted to ask you: Is it fair to say Vince Dizon wasn’t entirely wrong? Is that correct?
VP LENI: Ako, I think kasi iyong definition niya— Sorry, Karen, I didn’t hear the interview of Vince, so I might be unfair. Pero baka kasi iyong definition ng mass testing niya, ite-test iyong lahat na mga Pilipino—and that’s not what we mean. Ang sinasabi lang natin, test more in areas where transmission is really high.
Kasi ‘di ba DOH puts up a soccard every day. Kapag tiningnan mo, Karen, iyong soccard—halimbawa yesterday, positivity rate was 20% and testing was 39,000. So sobrang kaunti. Sobrang kaunti because you have to target na iyong positivity rate mo should be below 5%. And kapag ang positivity rate mo sobra nang taas, dapat iyong denominator mo taasan mo. And that denominator is the number of tests that you conduct.
KAREN DAVILA: I think what’s interesting in the Swab Cab concept is you actually go and have them tested because to assume that people will line up in hospitals—you’re right—is frankly too much for the ordinary Filipino. Parang, “Magtatrabaho na lang ako kaysa pumila pa ako tapos baka singilin pa ako.” And the incentives. Now, how many cities in NCR do you— Anong target mo? You’ve done Malabon. Can you give us the timeline of the cities, VP?
VP LENI: Actually, Karen, kami, we can go to any city as long as the LGU is willing to partner with us, kasi kulang iyong tao namin. Iyon iyong problema namin, Karen. Halimbawa, we can’t do— Mayroon kaming volunteer swabbers, mayroon kaming volunteer team, but what we can’t do is do the groundwork, preliminary groundwork. Dapat LGU iyon. Susunod doon, after a person tests positive, hindi din namin kaya na kami iyong magko-contact trace. So dapat ano iyon, kargo ng LGU, sila iyong magku-quarantine.
KAREN DAVILA: And they know the people.
VP LENI: Yes. As far as facilities is concerned, we can donate o we can help with setting up. Pero iyong lugar mismo, wala kaming lugar, so kayo iyong magpo-provide ng lugar. We’re willing to do tents, we’re willing to give folding beds, mattresses, pero iyong lugar mismo, kayo iyong magpo-provide. So we have been receiving requests, Karen.
KAREN DAVILA: I’m curious: Where is your next city? That would be interesting. Para abangan na iyon. Where is next?
VP LENI: Most probably, Karen, in Marikina, because we received—pero this is preliminary. We’re meeting with the team of Congresswoman Stella Quimbo today. She did the request, I think two days ago, and she was very receptive when we said, “We’re okay to go there as long as you provide for this, this, this, and this.” And siya, very receptive. Sinabi niya na, “This is what I’ve been wanting to do for so long.”
Pero iyong iba kasing LGUs na nagre-request, Karen, when we say na “you will do the groundwork, you will do the contact tracing, we won’t go there if there is no isolation facility available,” umaayaw na, o paminsan sinasabi na, “Teka muna, hindi pa namin iyan kaya ngayon. Magsasabi kami kapag kaya na namin.” Kasi— Ako, I don’t blame the LGUs, Karen.
KAREN DAVILA: Yeah, pagod na.
VP LENI: Saka their hands are really full now. Lalo iyong mga BHERTs nila. Sa Malabon nga, Karen, sobrang bilib ako sa mga BHERTs na... iyong the dedication, talagang... talagang mapapahanga ka—iyong binabahay-bahay, binabahay-bahay iyong mga tao.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay. Will the Swab Cab go—just very quickly—outside Metro Manila? Like general Manila area? We are in an NCR+ Bubble.
VP LENI: Yes, yes.
KAREN DAVILA: Would you go as far as that, oo?
VP LENI: Yes. Basta it’s within NCR bubble. We’ve been receiving requests from Cavite, from Bulacan, from Pampanga. Pero iyon nga, Karen, kapag sinasabi na namin na we don’t have—kapag sinasabi na namin iyong limitations namin, na “we give free tests, kami iyong magdadala ng cab, puwedeng kami iyong mag-provide ng mga swabbers, pero ito ang gagawin,” doon talaga sila napapaisip. Kasi parati nilang sinasabi, “kailangan na kailangan namin iyan, but our BHERTs are very, very busy now, so magsasabi kami kapag ready na kami.”
KAREN DAVILA: What’s interesting is that this is something that DOH can do, you know. Instead of this centralized system, where you expect the people, “Go and have yourselves tested,” it’s government going down to the people and saying, “Look, the test is here, we’ve chosen you. If you’re positive, this is the food.” It’s completely a different way to approach testing. I’m curious if—I’m sure you’ve written this in a paper you’ve submitted before: Is anybody in the DOH, even the undersecretaries or the teams assigned, are they receptive to doing this method, VP?
VP LENI: Ako naman, Karen, in fairness to DOH, we have briefings with them, we meet with them. Tingin ko lang, Karen, iyong mahirap talaga, a lot of people are so overwhelmed now. Sinasabi ko ito since last year, na parang kulang iyong nagtitimon. You know, when you’re in a crisis, ‘di ba iyong problema parang sobrang dami, na kapag ang problema sobrang dami, ang dami mo nang hindi naaasikaso kasi ang dami mong ginagawa. So iyong sa akin, it would be very beneficial sana if there is another team who is monitoring na, “Ito pa iyong hindi nagagawa, ito iyong dapat gawin, ito iyong mga problema.” Parang iyon iyong kulang. And I think it’s because everyone is so overwhelmed now. Parang kulang iyong nag-oorganize ng latag.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay. Now, you have to forgive me for this question, because I know you agreed to this interview to speak about programs.
VP LENI: [laughs]
KAREN DAVILA: But coming from what you said last year, “Kulang ang nagtitimon.” I want to ask you, you have netizens criticizing the President, asking where is he. Would you say kulang ang nagtitimon, hindi siya nagtitimon enough ngayon?
VP LENI: Ako, it doesn’t— Alam mo, iyong nagtitimon, Karen, doesn’t have to be the President, although para sa akin, malaking bagay kung presidente iyong nagtitimon kasi hindi makakahindi. Alam mo iyon, kapag sinabihan mo na— Parang it’s different if, let’s say, si Secretary Galvez iyong nag-oorder ng mga agencies. Kapag si Presidente iyon, talagang mas mabilis, mas mabilis kung siya mismo iyong nandoon.
Pero para sa akin, kung hindi si Presidente, there has to be somebody na iyong ginagawa niya lang, parang conductor sa orchestra: he doesn’t play the instrument, but he’s the one putting order in a lot of things. Iyon iyong nakikita ko na kulang ngayon. Kasi in fairness to everyone, parang everyone is working naman, Karen. Everyone is working. Everyone is exhausted already from last year pa tayo. Pero iyon nga eh—
Kahit dito sa opisina namin, Karen: in a smaller office like ours, ako, tutok na tutok ako. Tutok na tutok ako sa operations. Ako iyong nagsasabi— Kahit sa Bayanihan E-Konsulta, Karen, I have access to all the patients who are writing us, ako mismo ang nagsasabi, “O, ito, mabagal tayo. Mabagal tayo dito, magdagdag na tayo ng doktor kasi ang daming pasyente. Iyong dati nating budget ng doktor kulang na. Kung sinong matatawagan natin, tawagan na natin.” Ako mismo, I’ve been calling up my doctor-friends yesterday, “Puwede bang mahugot ka namin kasi ang dami naming backlog?”
Parang walang ganoon. Importante iyon, Karen, eh, kasi kailangan na parang may nagtutulak, kasi marami talagang ginagawa ngayon and it can be very overwhelming talaga.
KAREN DAVILA: Before I ask you about the WHO—we will talk about the WHO call last night, warning the Philippines already that we might be crossing what they say the “red line in its health capacity”. I’ll ask you about short-term solutions, midterm solutions. But before we go into a break, I just— I want to add: People are looking for the President, questioning about his health. Would you want to say something about that?
VP LENI: Ako, Karen, nakikita ko naman siya sa social media, pero para sa akin, importante naman— In crisis situations, kahit hindi presidente—kahit nga mayor, kapag may nangyari sa lugar mo, people wait for the mayor to, you know, to be visible, to say that “everything is all right, we’re on top of the situation, this is what we’re doing.” I think iyon iyong pinapanggalingan, iyon iyong pinanggagalingan ng assurance na everything is under control. Kasi kapag wala iyong assurance na iyon, Karen, iyong tao nase-stress siya eh. Parating ang tanong, “Saan na ba tayo pupunta? Kaya pa ba natin?” I think that’s where it is all coming from.
Pero para sa akin, gaya sa amin, rather than spend a lot of time looking for this and that, gagawin na lang namin iyong kaya naming gawin kasi kailangan ng tao. So sa akin, may basis kung bakit naghahanap, kasi ganoon naman—hindi lang Presidente, kahit governor, mayor, basta may nangyayari sa lugar mo, it’s the natural... parang natural instinct of people to look for their leader.
KAREN DAVILA: All right. So we’re going to take a quick break, Madam VP. Headstart will be right back. We’ll talk about policies, also coming from the WHO call last night, which was quite fresh. So stay with us, we’re going to go into a quick break.
[END GAP; COMMERCIAL BREAK]
KAREN DAVILA: Welcome back to Headstart. [News update] All right, still with us on Hot Copy, we have Vice President Leni Robredo. Let’s move forward and talk about the WHO warning. The WHO, in a press conference, said many health workers are getting COVID now—205 doctors in the Philippines are COVID-positive—they’re concerned about the situation, and they said it is important to avoid crossing this “red line”. Your reaction and what can we do, short-term, midterm, to avert the WHO warning?
VP LENI: Kasi Karen, the definition of WHO’s red line is if the number of cases exceed the capacity of the healthcare system. So sa atin, we’re seeing that in the NCR bubble already, where hospitals are so full that they can’t accept new patients anymore. And these are COVID and non-COVID patients. So talagang sa atin sa NCR bubble, red line na talaga.
There are a lot of things we cannot do, pero just expanding the hospital capacity is not enough. It has to be a... it has to be a full-blown program where, again, you start with testing, tracing, isolating, para hindi na nagagrabe iyong mga ospital.
I have made— I remember, Karen, I think I posted this Easter Sunday.
KAREN DAVILA: You did, yeah.
VP LENI: I made several recommendations, and one of them is to set up field hospitals already. To set up field hospitals. I think nagse-set up naman sila ngayon. Pero para sa akin, Karen, dapat mas marami. Dapat mas marami. And for me, better sana na every LGU may field hospital, para hindi na nangyayari iyong we read about patients who died while waiting for their space, while waiting for their hospital beds, or patients who died inside the car, or family members bringing the patient from one hospital to another only to be turned away because there’s no room available anymore, there’s no bed available anymore. So para sa akin, Karen, dapat sana itong iwasan, to put up field hospitals in every LGU in the NCR bubble, para iyong mga taga-doon won’t have to travel very far, asikasuhin na sila doon.
Pero ito kasi, hindi lang ito number of beds. Ito ay number of health personnel din. One of my suggestions two weeks ago was to invite health professionals from provinces where there is low transmission. Parang ginagawa na nila ito, Karen.
KAREN DAVILA: They are, absolutely, yeah.
VP LENI: I read in the news yesterday that there are a hundred, I think, more than a hundred personnel from the Visayas who are being flown to Manila—and I think that’s good. Pero iyong sa akin, Karen, iyong bilis, iyong bilis, because the need is now, ‘di ba. Kagabi lang... Halimbawa, kagabi lang, mayroon kaming family of an OVP staff na past midnight, mayroong medical emergency, na hindi sila tinatanggap, they were going from one hospital to another—it’s not COVID but they were being turned away. So how many Filipinos have gone through this ordeal, ‘di ba. So sa akin, no time to waste, so as far as expanding hospital capacity is concerned, dapat mabilis iyon.
Pero dito sa other end, kahit mag-expand tayo nang mag-expand, kung hindi natin nakokontrol iyong transmission, dadating pa din iyong time na iyong expansion natin kulang pa din. So para sa akin, Karen, dapat pati iyong transmission ikontrol. And how do you control transmission? Dagdagan natin iyong testing. Kasi hindi natin malalaman kung sino iyong positive o hindi if we don’t test enough.
KAREN DAVILA: Yeah, yeah. You said in that list of recommendations that testing should be every seven days. Now, we don’t do that in the Philippines na every seven days. How would you implement na it’s every seven days in a particular area, if the Swab Cab isn’t there?
VP LENI: Actually, Karen, it’s not really that you test every seven days. Pero ‘di ba, iyong symptoms kasi... iyong protocols kasi, ang sinasabi sa amin ng mga doktor namin dito, na pinakamabisang pag-test on the seventh day, on the seventh day, para the symptoms are there already, or mas... iyong efficacy mas mataas na. Kasi sometimes when you test too early, nagne-negative, nagkakaroon ng false sense of security. So iyong sa amin, iyong ginagawa namin, Karen, and this is part of the partnership with the LGU, ano ito... ito ay recommendation ng Health—iyong HPAAC, Healthcare Professionals Alliance [Against COVID-19]—na we test and then those who test positive, positive na iyon, i-isolate na iyon, pero those who tested negative i-quarantine siya muna, pero kung mayroon siyang symptoms or there was exposure, mayroong confirmatory na RT-PCR test. Ang sinasabi sa amin, Karen, iyong antigen kasi, hindi siya masyadong definitive pagdating doon sa mga negative tests. Mas mataas— Iyong performance niya mas okay doon sa nag-positive, pero sa nag-negative, dapat mayroong confirmatory if there was exposure and there are symptoms. So that’s part of our agreement with the LGU.
Halimbawa, Karen, iyong first batch namin, parang 36 ba iyong nag-positive, and there were 12 who tested negative but had symptoms. So we had an understanding with the LGU na, “Ito, ite-test n’yo the following day for RT-PCR.” Tapos iyong second run namin, there were more than a hundred—parang 140 people—who tested negative but had symptoms.
KAREN DAVILA: But did we overrely— I want to ask you: Did we overrely on RT-PCR test? We heard, of course, the DOH the whole year, “RT-PCR test is the gold standard. It has to be RT-PCR.” And you have so many people that put up labs. But you have Vietnam that had four methods of testing, and their RT-PCR, they had lab, but they also had real-time. And I’m curious if you feel this was an issue.
And another thing is Secretary Harry Roque said, “You know, testing is virtually free for anyone that is susceptible or can have COVID.” What do you make of that? Many netizens reacted that, “Where is it free? What do you mean by free?”
VP LENI: Ano kasi, Karen... Ako, I’ve been visiting the communities, and it’s been a common complaint na RT-PCR testing is so inaccessible for them. Nagiging accessible lang siya if the LGU conducts RT-PCR tests—free RT-PCR tests—for them. Pero we’ve been talking to some of the LGUs, and they said they’re operating under protocols. Halimbawa, kung walang symptoms, they don’t test.
We have been getting a lot of appeals, Karen, from people. Halimbawa— Example ko lang ito: Mayroong magkakapatid, humihingi sa amin ng tulong—ano ito ha, outside Metro Manila pero within the NCR bubble. Sabi nila, “Iyong both parents namin nasa ospital na because of COVID. Kami magkakapatid are displaying symptoms already, pero ayaw pa kaming i-test. Ite-test daw kami parang several days after pa, pero may lagnat na kami, etc., etc.” So sa akin, Karen, puwedeng iba-iba iyong pag-rollout ng RT-PCR testing. Pero we can’t close our eyes to the fact that it’s not very accessible. Kaya iyong mga tao na kailangan ng test na mayroon namang pambayad, nag-a-RT-PCR na lang sila—it’s somewhere between mga P3,000 to P6,000, sometimes even more—kasi nga iyon... Halimbawa, may mga employers na nagre-require, for travel nagre-require. Halimbawa iyong Bayanihan E-Konsulta, we have been getting a lot of requests for testing.
KAREN DAVILA: For RT-PCR?
VP LENI: RT-PCR. Because that’s what’s required. Pero sa akin kasi, Karen—I told you this already a little earlier—na while RT-PCR is the gold standard, if we’re looking for... if we’re looking at communities where transmission is very high, antigen testing will be very, very helpful, in the sense na you get the results right away, so you are able—
KAREN DAVILA: You can isolate people right away, ‘di ba?
VP LENI: Yes. Sa RT-PCR testing, mabilis na iyong within the day, ‘di ba? Mabilis na iyong within the day, pero usually one to two—
KAREN DAVILA: It’s expensive.
VP LENI: It’s expensive, etc., etc. So sa akin, okay iyong ginagawa namin sa Malabon na antigen, iyong mga nag-positive, considered nang positive, tapos iyong mga nag-negative with symptoms, iyon iyong i-a-RT-PCR. It’s been very helpful. And I guess that’s what we will do na in the next runs of the Swab Cab, where we’ve been deciding based on recommendations also from doctors that we’ve been consulting.
KAREN DAVILA: VP, I have three questions to go. We’re running out of time. First, I wanted to ask you, many were surprised that your daughter, Tricia, was one of the swabbers in Malabon—before I forget that. Even your team told me—I spoke with them before, you know, when I coordinated this interview—they said they didn’t even know that she was there. And the mayor didn’t know that she was there. And many were quite impressed. I just wanted to ask you as a mother now, what was that like? Did you tell her to do it?
VP LENI: No, no, no. Actually, Karen, she was just a reliever. She was just a reliever because we had a swabber who also tested positive, and we learned about it the day before, the day before—
KAREN DAVILA: And she volunteered.
VP LENI: Oo. Ako nga, hindi ko alam na nag-volunteer siya because I was in the office. Pero noong nakita ko iyong thread sa telepono ko, sinasabi nila na we have three volunteers already, iyong three volunteers, nakita ko iyong pangalan ni Tricia. So tinext ko siya na, “Tricia, nag-volunteer ka daw?” Sabi niya, “Oo, kasi nakita ko na nagkasakit pala iyong swabber, walang magsu-swab tomorrow.”
KAREN DAVILA: That’s actually her that we’re showing now on ANC. So you didn’t know yourself, apparently. You just found out on the thread.
VP LENI: Oo. I learned about it the day before that she volunteered. And there were some people in the office who were telling me not to allow Tricia to go.
KAREN DAVILA: Oh, and?
VP LENI: Ako naman, Karen... Ako, I trust my daughter. So ako, sinasabi ko sa kaniya, “Ang dami sa aking nagsasabi na huwag ka daw mag-volunteer.” So sinasabi ni Tricia, “I took an oath. I took an oath na kapag kailangan kami, magse-serve kami.” Tapos sabi niya, “Nakakahiya naman yata iyon na we’re asking people to volunteer, tapos ako hindi magvo-volunteer.”
Actually, all my kids have been volunteering, Karen, since last year. Pero ito lang kay Tricia—ang request niya lang, ang request niya, Karen, kung puwedeng hindi sabihin na nandoon siya. She didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. So iyong— Kami kasi, Karen, nag-aano kami... kung balikan iyong posts namin during the day, ako I posted already midday, I never mentioned that she was there.
KAREN DAVILA: Only the mayor did, actually.
VP LENI: Yes. I eventually posted about it noong gabi na, kasi ang dami sa aking nagta-tag, ang dami sa aking nagta-tag na mga pictures of her. Kasi I think after the swabbing, nagkaroon ng huddle. Parang—alam mo iyon—parang debriefing. So nalaman na ng mga taga-doon na nandoon siya. So the mayor heard about it. Pero—
KAREN DAVILA: You must feel very proud.
VP LENI: Oo naman, Karen. I’ve always been very proud of my daughters.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay, because we don’t have enough time, so quickly: Are you already qualified to be vaccinated?
VP LENI: Yes. Yes, I’m qualified already, Karen, kasi hypertensive ako. Hypertensive ako, I belong to A3. Pero hindi pa ako, Karen, nagpapa-vaccinate kasi kulang pa ng supply eh. Dito sa office namin, I’ve been encouraging iyong mga drivers namin, iyong mga people na may—iyong bumababa talaga sa communities on a very regular basis na may comorbidities. Para sa akin, sila muna bago ako, kasi ako, while I visit communities, I don’t do it as often as they do, so sa akin, unahin muna sila.
KAREN DAVILA: You’re not particular what vaccine? Do you have a preference?
VP LENI: Ako, Karen, iyon naman parati nating sinasabi, na whatever is available, as long as sumusunod tayo sa payo ng FDA, ng DOH.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay.
VP LENI: Kapag sinabi ng FDA hindi ito puwede sa seniors o hindi ito puwede sa healthcare workers, sumunod tayo.
KAREN DAVILA: Okay, all right. There are more questions, but to end, everything you’re doing is viewed from a political lens somewhat. What is your reaction to that?
VP LENI: Ako, it can’t be helped, it can’t be helped because I’m occupying a political office. Pero Karen, this is what I tell my team every day, na sa atin, parati nating iisipin, this is a time of great need, na wherever we could be of help, iyon ang focus natin. Huwag tayong magpapa... ano iyon... magpapa-limit dahil nag-aalala tayo baka tayo ma-criticize o baka ganiyan. Huwag. Basta sa atin, if we can save one life, gawin natin iyong gagawin natin. Saka na natin isipin kung maki-criticize ba tayo o hindi. Kung magsa-suffer ba iyong numbers ko o hindi is the least of our consideration.
KAREN DAVILA: Two last questions, and VP, sorry, these are from viewers, if you can just answer quickly. Professor Edna Co is asking, “Could the Office of the VP request schools to serve as isolation facilities? Schools are hardly used these days due to remote learning.” Is that part of the plan? Would you do that?
VP LENI: We have been doing that already, Karen, but through the LGUs. Through the LGUs, like what we did in Malabon.
KAREN DAVILA: So it’s the LGUs. They have to choose.
VP LENI: Yes, yes.
KAREN DAVILA: Last question: Noel Ferrer is asking, “Can you please comment on Chiara Zambrano’s experience in the West Philippine Sea yesterday?”
VP LENI: Grabe, Karen.
KAREN DAVILA: To close, yeah.
VP LENI: Ako, I was watching the video... Hindi ko alam kung anong maramdaman ko, Karen, eh. Kasi ‘di ba it was just a few miles out of Palawan, it was within our Exclusive Economic Zone, and yet tayong mga Pilipino iyong tinataboy. Para sa akin, Karen, my source of comfort now is the strong statement released by Secretary Lorenzana and the DFA, kasi para sa akin, pinaglalaban tayo, pinaglalaban tayo. Pero to watch the video... Iba iyong napapanood mo rather than nababasa. Alam mo iyon? Iyong takot na dinadala ng mga mangingisda natin every day of their lives, when this is an area where they have every right to fish, tapos tinataboy sila nang ganoon. Parang nakakaano siya... Very heartbreaking.
KAREN DAVILA: Is there anything you believe, an action that the government should take? Clearly, you have the DFA taking a strong position to diplomatic protests every day. Secretary Lorenzana with that statement. Just briefly, VP, do you believe there’s a stronger course of action the Philippines should take?
VP LENI: Ako, one of the things that we could have done since 2016, Karen, was to use the decision of the arbitration—
KAREN DAVILA: The ruling, oo.
VP LENI: The ruling, to... you know... to team up with all the other neighboring countries who are going through the same struggles, ‘di ba? To use the ruling to be able to have a stronger position. Parati kasi nating sinasabi na, “Hindi natin sila kaya kasi maliit lang tayo.” Pero Karen, kapag nagsama-sama tayong lahat, mas malakas tayo. And I think it’s one of the areas where we have not— It’s an advantage— It’s an opportunity we have not taken advantage of, we have not maximized. Sa akin, the stand of Secretary Lorenzana and DFA was a source of comfort for so many of us. Pero again, when you watch the video, nakakagalit, nakakadurog ng puso, na nangyayari iyon within our territory.
KAREN DAVILA: All right. On that note, I don’t have enough time, but Madam Vice President, I just want to thank you for agreeing to this interview. I know you want to hold off interviews for a while, so we appreciate the trust. Thank you so much for sharing your projects with us and answering a few more questions. Greatly appreciated. Salamat po, Ma’am! Stay strong, God bless you. Thank you!
VP LENI: Thanks, Karen. Thank you for having me.
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