Interview with Vice President Leni Robredo The Source on CNN Philippines
Host: Pinky Webb
PINKY WEBB: Vice President Leni Robredo joins us live. The health department says that the country is now back to high-risk classification due to rising COVID-19 cases amidst the threat of the Delta variant. More hospitals are also dealing with increasing COVID-19 patients. At least 25 hospitals in Metro Manila are now under critical level. So how should the government maximize the two week ECQ? And will this be enough for the Delta variant? Let’s go straight to the source of this story, we have Vice President Leni Robredo. Vice President Robredo, thank you for your time and welcome back to The Source.
VP LENI: Hi, Pinky. Good morning. It’s nice to see you again. Thank you for having me.
PINKY WEBB: Good to see you. Vice President, let’s just look at the situation we’re in right now: 8,900 cases recorded yesterday, the DOH says that that was even a low turnout due to lab outputs. The Philippines is now categorized as high-risk, the Delta [variant] now present in 13 regions in the country. With this situation that we are in right now, would you say this was inevitable knowing that Delta has affected many other countries around the world?
VP LENI: Very much, Pinky. For several months now, if you can recall, many experts and professionals have been warning us about the threat of the Delta variant. Iyong mga kuwento na naririnig natin about India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Thailand. They were even performing much, much better before, really show that the Delta variant, iyong potent danger of the Delta variant and the danger that we will have another surge because of that. And ngayon, ramdam na namin iyon, Pinky, with the dramatic rise in our numbers again with Bayanihan E-Konsulta. Our numbers yesterday was 8,900 all over the country and 21% iyong positivity rate. So gusto kong sabihin talagang the surge is real. Sa amin sa Bayanihan E-Konsulta, June-July levels, we were receiving less than 100 new cases a day. Yesterday, we had, I think 402. So kahit sa amin, from our end, ramdam na ramdam na.
PINKY WEBB: So, for you, it is an obvious surge?
VP LENI: Yes, yes. Ano talaga, PInky, if you look at the numbers, the rise of the number of new cases in the entire country has been dramatic. Kasi ‘di ba nandoon tayo sa mga 4,000 levels just a few weeks ago and I think the other day—was it the other day?—we were at 11,000.
PINKY WEBB: Opo.
VP LENI: Kahapon was 8,900 but DOH was reporting that parang it’s Tuesdays and Wednesdays—Mondays and Tuesdays yata are naturally, parang low numbers for us because of the weekend.
PINKY WEBB: That’s right. How is [the] government doing so far now with its COVID response?
VP LENI: Ako, Pinky, I did a—I uploaded a video message with recommendations last August 4. But I have been reading about the Delta variant and we really need to recalibrate our efforts now because Delta variant is a game-changer. There are a lot of things na mas delikado tayo compared to the previous surges. Halimbawa, ang sinasabi ng epidemiologists, iyong transmission rate of COVID-19 without the Delta variant was just at 2 to 3. Iyong Delta variant is 6 to 9. Gusto kong sabihin ganoon kabilis ang magiging transmission. So before, Pinky, kahit noong August 4, nagsbi ako ng mga numero, like, we should be testing more, we should be vaccinating 750,000 a day already. Pero with the new information about the Delta variant, mukhang iyong mga dating recommendations hind na puwede. So there’s really a need to recalibrate. Kapag tiningnan natin iyong mga ginagawa ng ibang bansa, it’s very important to keep on measuring effective reproductive number and not just the basic reproductive number. And kapag tiningnan mo, Pinky, importante iyong number of people being vaccinated. Importante iyong efficacy of the vaccines being deployed. Ano talaga siya, it’s many different things. Halimbawa, one of my recommendations was to increase testing at… na 120,000 a day. I was telling you earlier na 21% iyong positivity rate natin kahapon at 8,900 cases. Pero when you look at how many tests were conducted, nandoon pa rin tayo sa dati nating level before which is at the range of 50,000 tests.
PINKY WEBB: Tama.
VP LENI: So gustong sabihin, we should really test more. Kasi the international standard is positivity rate should be less than 5%. So if it’s 21%, we conducted 50,000 tests. Iyon iyong denominator natin sa pag kuwenta ng positivity rate. Gusto ko sabihin, hindi tayo nagte-test enough. And this is something we have repeatedly recommended since last year, that we should test more para iyong positivity rate natin mas mababa. We should test more para mas makita natin kung iyong transmission kung nasaan. Bakti mahalaga na makita natin iyong transmission? Para ma-isolate kaagad natin. Para ma-isolate natin iyong mga cases. Because the worst thing that can happen to us is, there are cases na gumagala na undetected. Kasi lalong ga-grabe ang transmission kapag ganoon. And we all know that iyong COVID maraming iyong asymptomatic, marami iyong mga mild cases. So sa akin iyong number one recommendation really is to increase testing. The second recommendation, again, I've kept repeating this since last year, is really to streamline and strengthen our contract tracing efforts.
PINKY WEBB: Unify.
VP LENI: Kasi ‘di ba, Pinky, more than a year into the pandemic, labo-labo pa rin? Ang daming mga apps, which means kapag maraming apps, gustong sabihin ang dami rin na databases. Para sa akin, dapat isa lang. The government has already mandated StaySafe as the contact tracing app we should all use. Pero dahil very late na ito minandate, nagkaniya-kaniya na iyong mga LGUs, and there is not enough effort to streamline all the existing ones to have just one database. And for me that’s very, very important. Even if we hire so many contact tracers, if we don’t streamline everything, mahihirapan tayo. Kasi ano naman, eh, mobile ang tao, hindi naman natin nako-contain iyong tao sa isang geographic unit. Iyong mobility contributes to transmission, eh. So sa akin, kung ang contact tracing app masyadong parochial sa mga lugar, walang effort to streamline everything, kahit ang dami nating i-hire, mahihirapan tayo.
PINKY WEBB: Okay. Knowing what you said earlier, that obviously you’ve also been studying the Delta variant, and we have been informing the public this, for example about the transmissibility, from 2 to 3, now we’re looking at 6 to 8 or 6 to 9%. Positivity rate should be—[the] World Health Organization says—should be less than 5%, we’re now looking at 21%. I want to go back to my earlier question, Vice President, I hope you don’t mind, ano po? Knowing that we knew this and knowing, obviously, that government was very much aware of this, did government prepare enough for this Delta variant and for what is happening right now:
VP LENI: Ako Pia, government exerted a lot of effort. But with COVID-19 it’s really never enough. Kahit saang lugar, it’s never enough. It’s evolving, eh. Kahit iyong variants, tuloy-tuloy iyong paglabas. Gaya ngayon mayroon na iyong sinasabing Lambda. So kailangan talagang bilisan. Halimbawa, with vaccination. I read yesterday that we’re doing something like 500,000 jabs a day already in the country and that’s big. Several months ago, parang very welcome na nakarating tayo sa ganitong numbers a day. But with Delta variant it’s not enough anymore, ‘di ba. Kaya sinasabi ko na it’s evolving because the variants are also evolving. And the information that we are getting increases by the day. So dapat talaga masyado tayong nimble and agile. Parang hinahabol natin iyon. Naalala ako, Pinky, I was saying—
PINKY WEBB: Sige po, Vice President. Please, go ahead.
VP LENI: I was saying if you recall in my August 4 message, I was saying na dapat ine-aim na natin iyong 750,000 a day na jabs. Pero now parang hindi na din enough. We should aim more. We should aim for a higher number. Dapat nagmi-million na tayo a day, if only masabayan natin or maunahan natin iyong pagkalat ng Delta variant. Iyon iyong sinsasabi ko, Pinky, na the infrastructure should be there already para as the information comes, mas nagiging madali for us na mag-adjust ng ating mga ginagawa.
PINKY WEBB: Understandable. So we need to evolve, we need to keep up with the times. So doon sa ilang recommendations ninyo, lima po iyon. Iyong sinasabi niyo na 120,000 testing, obviously that has not happened. Vice President, we are at 50,000. Iyon pong unifying contact tracing, hindi pa rin po sa atin lahat si StaySafe. Iyong pangatlo pong sinabi ninyo iyong 750,000 vaccinations per day, now you are saying this has to increase to a million. I did read a reply by Secretary Vince Dizon. Sinabi po niya na their target now is one million. Although I did see also that the record high vaccination a couple of days ago, umabot po ng 700,000 pero ano ho iyan ha, taas-baba ang numero on vaccination. Very important, number 4, I hope you don’t mind, “Be hospital ready.” I need to discuss this with you because this is your recommendation. We need to be hospital ready. Vice President, ang PGH, St. Luke’s, NKTI, Quezon City General Hospital, if I’m not mistaken, and other hospitals, are saying they are already full. What did we not do right? Or did we not prepare enough to be hospital ready?
VP LENI: I don’t think so, Pinky. There are a lot of factors that can make us say that we are already hospital-ready. Halimbawa, sinasabi na for a 32-bed ICU o intensive care unit, it would cost us approximately, parang roughly around P40 million to build. Parati tayong kinukulang sa ICU. Kahit may beds pa sa ospital, iyong ICU laging punuan ngayon even in the provinces. So para sa akin, if we aim to build 1,000 more ICU beds, it would cost the government about P1.3 billion. Dapat noon pa—and ginawa naman ito, Pinky, pero not enough—dapat noon pa when the threat of COVID-19 was coming to our shores, we should have started building ICU units already or increase bed capacity of ICU units already. Ang sinasabi ng experts, Pinky, to build a 32-bed ICU will take about a month. So sa akin, ang daming mga periods since last year that we could have taken advantage of. As I have said, hindi natin sinasabi na walang effort to do that pero halimbawa, realigning budget priorities. Are we allocating enough? Are we allocating enough para maka—you know, to capacitate us to build 1,000 more ICU beds. I don’t think so. Medical personnel, it is also important to beef up hospital personnel and supplies. Parati natin sinasabi recruit more nurses, have the needed medicines and equipment ready. Pero sa marami nating ospital hindi pa nga nababayaran ng PhilHealth, ‘di ba. Kapag nabayaran sana sila nang maayos ng PhilHealth, they would be in a capacity to improve what they have already. Iyong pangalawa, the state of our underpaid health workers. Ayon, sabi ko nga kanina lagi kong sinasabi recruit more nurses but we are having a hard time recruiting. Bakit? Bakit ganoon? Until now, maraming nagrereklamo na we haven’t released the hazard pay for all medical frontliners yet. Are we making their pay in the country at par with our neighboring countries para hindi na sila labas nang labas? Halimbawa, magkano ba iyong suweldo? Magkano ba iyong suweldo ng nurse—entry-level na salary? I heard it’s P33,000 for nurses in the country. Mababa iyon if you compare that to our neighbors. Ang Vietnam it’s P63,000, Indonesia it’s P79,000, in Malaysia it’s P97,000. Iyong Singapore nga, Pinky, P236,000. So if you’re offering P33,000 entry-level salary, papaano natin mahohold iyong ating mga nurses from working abroad? Ito, mare-resolve ito kapag inayos natin iyong budget allocations. Iyong paniniwala ko, Pinky, let us always err on the side of generosity. It is clear that our health workers are compensated for their heroic sacrifices. More than one year na sila, Pinky. More than one year na sila na walang halos pahinga.
PINKY WEBB: Okay. Vice President Leni Robredo, we need to take a very short break. The Source will be right back.
PINKY WEBB: You’re watching The Source on CNN Philippines. I’m Pinky Webb. Our guest today, Vice President Leni Robredo. I wanted to quickly ask you about the ECQ, Vice President. Do you think that the implementation last August 6 was the right time? Was it too early or was it too late?
VP LENI: Ako, Pinky, dapat kasi tingnan natin iyong ECQ as a stopgap measure. It’s not the end-all. We can’t really say that the declaration of the ECQ will solve everything because it would depend on what you do during the ECQ. It’s meant not just to limit the transmissions but it’s also meant to give our hospitals and our medical infrastructure a breathing space para makahabol sila. So sa atin, masasabi natin na we were able to make good use of the ECQ, depende kung ano iyong ginagawa natin ngayon. So it can’t be what happened last year na sobrang tagal noong ating ECQ kasi we saw the dips in our GDP how economically costly our ECQs were. So depende talaga, Pinky, what we do during this period now.
PINKY WEBB: Okay, but so far, how are we doing during this ECQ? Would you say you’re satisfied so far by what has been implemented since August 6?
VP LENI: It’s difficult to say that we’re satisfied or not. We appreciate all the efforts, not just of all the government agencies but even the private sector who’s been helping out. I’ve been reading about the initiatives of the private sector in helping in the vaccinations. In fact, one of the biggest reasons why we’re able to hit our record numbers as far as vaccinations are concerned is because of the help of not just—because of the help of the private sector, even with the Vaccine Express that we’re doing, Pinky, we’re basically dependent on private sector help. So there’s a lot of good things happening. There’s a lot of good things happening but my take on this, Pinky, is that everything should still be based on data available. For example, I was reading a—it’s like an epidemiology analysis of the Delta variant and I think I mentioned this earlier already that in computing for the reproductive number, the efficacy of the vaccines being deployed is a huge factor. So with that data, that should guide government in, you know, in deciding what kind of vaccines we should start ordering now because of the data surrounding the Delta variant. It’s many different things. And because COVID-19 is something new, the Delta variant is something new, really the information comes in trickles. So again, it’s really the agility of, you know, adapting to whatever information is given to us.
PINKY WEBB: Iyon pong sinasabi niyo po sa vaccines, ano, because so far, also from the last update I’ve been reading, ang lumalabas po na mga analysis is coming from Pfizer, even Moderna, wala pa ho kasi talagang published on SinoVac. Are you basically saying, Vice President, that we should procure more of these vaccines because there are studies on their efficacy on the Delta variant? Ganoon ho ba iyong inyong sinasabi?
VP LENI: Iyong binabasa ko kasi, Pinky, kahapon parang nagbigay siya mas mathematical iyong analysis, eh. Parang nagbigay siya ng formula papaano ba natin makukuha iyong effective reproduction number. Parang ang sinasabi niya, Pinky, na iyong effective reproduction number, iyong basic reproduction number—ito iyong sinasabi kong 6 to 9 kapag sa Delta variant—iyong basic reproduction number, imu-multiply mo iyon. Imu-multiply mo iyon by—mayroong formula na binibgay pero in essence, tinitingnan mo iyong portion of population that will be susceptible to getting the virus. And tinitingnan ko iyong binibigay niyang formula, iyong pag-compute mo noong portion ng population na magiging susceptible, ang factor doon proportion of people vaccinated, eh, at saka iyong vaccine efficacy. Kasi iyong vaccine efficacy kasi kinompute niya, Pinky, iyong sa US na I think mga 50%—a little over 50% na ang vaccinated. Parang it was a question of should we give booster shots already or should we vaccinate more. And if you use that, it’s data-driven. If you use that formula, pinapakita noong formula na vaccinating more people will be more effective than giving booster shots. So para sa akin, dapat—
PINKY WEBB: I see, I see.
VP LENI: Dapat tinitingnan natin ito. Dapat tinitingnan natin ito kasi iyong booster shots are supposed to increase vaccine efficacy, ‘di ba. Pero because of the formula given, mas mabuti na kung mayroon kang extra vaccine, bakunahan mo muna iyong greater part of the population rather than start giving booster shots because of this formula. So, ang point ko lang dito, Pinky, I won’t go into the alam mo iyon, specifics, ang point ko lang, obligasyon din namin na mga public officials na ina-update iyong sarili natin, lalo na because hindi lang these are coming from experts but we have to learn from the experiences also of other countries. We have to learn from the best practices or perhaps, the pitfalls that other countries [have] committed para matuto tayo. Kasi hindi naman ito puwedeng trial and error, eh. So, I’m sure government has been doing that also, lalo na iyong mga agencies involved directly in COVID-19 response operations na inaaral talaga iyong mga lumalabas. Kasi pinaka-problema talaga rito, Pinky, it’s not like flu na alam na natin iyong lahat na information that we need to know. Ito, evolving talaga, eh. So dapat iyong policies natin [have] to adapt to the information that comes.
PINKY WEBB: Vice President Leni Robredo, we need to take another short break. The Source will be right back.
PINKY WEBB: You’re watching The Source on CNN Philippines. I’m Pinky Webb. Our guest today is Vice President Leni Robredo. I need to talk about politics, Vice President. I hope you don’t mind. So sinabi niyo na po bakit niyo nire-reject itong unification formula from Senator Ping Lacson. But during an interview, sinabi niya sana raw you said pinag-isipan mo muna, “pag-usapan natin iyan,” sabi ho niya, at magko-konsulta ka sana sa iyong mga supporters. Why was it an immediate rejection? Why did you not give yourself time to think about it?
VP LENI: Ako kasi, Pinky, I felt so strongly about it kasi iyong pinaka-proposal talaga we all file and kapag nag-file kami, Pinky, magsasabong na iyong aming mga supporters. Kapag nag-file kami iyong mga supporters namin aasa na. Iyong mga tao tataya na amin. Aasa na sila na dahil nag-file kami, hanggang katapusan ito. Ang ayaw ko, Pinky, maging sitwasyon iyong nag-file kami, tumaya sa amin iyong mga tao, in the middle of the game bigla kaming magwi-withdraw. Sa akin, I didn’t feel good about it. Pero iyong usapan kasi namin, Pinky, hindi namin iyon tinuldukan. In fact, iyong usapan namin to continue talking. Halimbawa, one of the things that we agreed on is pagdating ni Senator Pacquiao we will try—we will try to sit together and discuss. So ang paniniwala ko sa negotiations, Pinky, again, it’s a continuing thing until makahanap ka ng common ground. Ganoon naman iyon, ‘di ba. Ine-expect ko na hindi siya magiging madali kasi ang pinanggalingan namin iba-iba. Ang pinanggalingan namin iba-iba. Hindi naman kami magkakapartido and expected ko na iba-iba iyong pakiramdam namin about many things. Pero hindi gustong sabihin na we don’t agree on one, we can’t agree on more, on other proposals anymore.
PINKY WEBB: But I wanted to ask you: is there a possibility you’ll change your mind on this unification formula or your mind is set?
VP LENI: Sa akin, Pinky, ang paniniwala ko talaga the 2022 elections is a very important elections. Meaning to say, because it’s a very important elections, we should really give unity a chance because too much is at stake. Kailangan maging bukas tayo, makipagkaisa sa mga taong maaaring, gaya ng sabi ko, iba ang pinanggalingan pero ang gusto rin pagbabago sa bayan. And you know, I have repeatedly said this in the past that I will exert all my efforts to reach out. Paniniwala ko, obligasyon namin sa taumbayan na subukang i-broaden ang base ang maghanap ng common ground. Pero with that particular proposal, ayaw ko kasi, Pinky, na parang may panlilinlang sa supporters. Ayaw ko iyong nag-file kami—siyempre kapag nag-file kami, Pinky, mayroon na iyang ano, eh, iyong sinasabi ko kanina, tataya na iyong mga tao. Kapag tumaya na iyong mga tao, sinamahan ka na sa laban. Sinamahan ka na sa laban na kung magwi-withdraw ako middle of the game, ang pakiramdam ko panlilinlang, eh. Pero ako, I knew—it was a bold proposal. I knew that Senator Ping was like me, also seeking more ways by which we can forge a unity of some sort, siguro find a common ground. Hindi ako sang-ayon sa proposal na iyon pero para sa akin, Pinky, ang dami pang ibang puwedeng pag-usapan. Mayroon akong mga proposal na ayaw niya rin pero dapat iyong pag-uusap should continue until, alam mo iyon, makahanap kayo ng common ground and hindi lang naman kami iyong mag-uusap. Hindi lang ako, hindi lang si Senator Ping, hindi lang si Senate President. Marami pang ibang mga kailangang should join us in the table na dapat continuing exercise siya.
PINKY WEBB: Have you actually reached out to Senator Pacquiao?
VP LENI: Yes, yes. I’ve exerted every effort to reach out to almost everyone already, Pinky. Ano lang, I haven’t talked about it kasi hindi ko alam if they are comfortable na kinukuwento ko na na nag-usap kami. Pero I’ve always been very open that I am the one seeking, parang initiating discussions with almost everyone. Ang lumabas lang kasi, Pinky, iyong kay Senator Gordon because Senator Gordon talked about it. Lumabas din iyong kay Senator Ping because he talked about it. Pero iyong all the others, gusto kong i-respeto iyong privacy. Wala kaming usapan, Pinky, not to talk about it pero I’d rather na habang nag-uusap pa lang, ito po comfort level nila.
PINKY WEBB: Pero nakausap niyo na ho ba, I guess I just want to ask, were you able to speak to Senator Pacquiao already?
VP LENI: Yes, yes. I have spoken to him, I think twice already. Pero ano, Pinky, iyong sa akin mas exploratory. Wala pang… Pinag-uusapan pa lang namin iyong mga pakiramdam namin about the elections at ano ba iyong stand namin about this, mga ganoon lang naman muna, Pinky, iyong tinatanong ko. Wala pa ngang pinag-uusapan kung sino ang susuportahan. Ang tinitingnan ko lang, Pinky, would you be willing to sit down and talk further? Iyong mga ganoon. Iyong mga ganoon na mas… [technical lag]. The last time I talked to Senator Manny was, I think, the day before he left for the US. So iyong usapan namin, “sige, pagbalik mo mag-usap ulit tayo.”
PINKY WEBB: Oh, I see. Iyon pong very quickly lang, I hope you don’t mind, VP, kasi if you want a unified opposition, hindi ho puwede talagang may Lacson, may Robredo, may Isko, I’m not sure if you can ano, isama si Senator Pacquiao diyan tapos mayroon din pong Senator Gordon. Kung magkahiwalay-hiwalay kayo, let’s say even with Senator Trillanes sabi niya if magsama kayo ni Senator Lacson, ‘di ho ba, baka raw—“pasensya na po, I might withdraw my support together with the Magdalo.” I guess my question is, how important is it that iyong—the seeming those who are not part now of the Duterte administration—kailangan ho magsama-sama kayo para matuloy iyong sinasabi na malakas na opposition? Because if we are to trust the surveys, it’s really Mayor Inday who’s topping it.
VP LENI: Ang paniniwala ko kasi, Pinky, na dapat hindi ilimit lang among us iyong pag-uusap. Actually, even among our supporters mayroong debate tungkol diyan. Iyong iba talagang mas purists na, “tayo-tayo lang mag-usap kasi tayo lang iyong oposisyon, lahat sila hindi. Hindi natin sila dapat kausap.” Pero actually, I’m more—hindi ko alam kung pragmatic iyong mas tamang term pero para sa akin, iyong paniniwala ko we should broaden the base. Totoong marami kaming differences pero the reason why the exploratory talks are happening is because we want to see if we have common grounds that we could agree on. Early days ito. Ibig sabihin hindi dahil kinausap ko na, tapos na iyong usapan. Kasi lahat naman ng nakausap, Pinky, ang solusyon, mag-usap ulit. Lahat naman na nakausap ko willing to… So sa akin, worth—
PINKY WEBB: Open pa.
VP LENI: Vice President, I hope you don’t mind, I have one minute left. Where are you in terms of your decision to run for president? Nasaan na ho kayo ngayon?
VP LENI: Iyong decision-making ko, Pinky, involves a lot of many factors. It’s not just the numbers kasi iyon iyong paniniwala ng iba na what’s keeping me from deciding is just the numbers, hindi iyon. Iyong iba naman, Pinky, iyong paniniwala parang personal convenience ko. Sabi ko, I’m way past that. So hindi na iyong tanong, gusto mo bang mag-pangulo o hindi? Kasi para sa akin, mas sense of duty na siya. Pero having said that, I know that the 2022 elections is a very important election. It would determine what will happen to the country in the next six years after the elections. And sa akin, Pinky, I’ve repeatedly said this na I don’t think that the country can last another six years with this kind of governance—[technical lag]—because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we saw how governance played a very crucial role in crisis situations. So sa akin, ang paniniwala ko obligasyon ko. Obligasyon kong maghanap ng maraming mga options hindi para sa akin pero ano ba iyong pagbubuti ng bansa. And iyong sinabi natin na ikabubuti ng bansa, again it’s many different things.
PINKY WEBB: Okay, I hope we have more time but we are already over time. Vice President Leni Robredo, Ma’am, maraming, maraming salamat po sa inyong oras.
VP LENI: Thank you! Thank you, Pinky.
PINKY WEBB: Thank you. And thank you for joining us here on The Source. I’m Pinky Webb. You’re watching CNN Philippines.
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