Staging revolt? Medical workers tell Duterte: Our enemy is COVID-19

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s contempt for their appeal to review the country’s response to COVID-19, medical workers on Monday, August 3, urged government officials to work with them to beat the coronavirus pandemic. 

Members of the medical community issued this response after Duterte expressed outrage over health workers’ plea to tighten quarantine restrictions and dared them to stage a “revolution” against him.  

“We as a medical community, composed of several organizations, made an appeal to revert to enhanced community quarantine. That was the call, nothing else. Let’s be clear on that,” Philippine Medical Association President Dr Jose Santiago Jr told Rappler in a phone interview. 

Wala po ibang kalaban dito kung 'di COVID-19,” he added. (There is no other enemy here except COVID-19.) 

In a late night speech on Sunday, August 2, Duterte showed his outrage at 80 medical associations, which warned that health systems were overwhelmed and the country was losing its battle against the pandemic.

The health sector had issued this distress signal as the recent surge in new COVID-19 cases prompted health workers to warn they were “nearing the end of the line” after being at the frontlines of the fight against the disease for months. 

Dr Mario Panaligan, president of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), pointed out there was an immediate need to address the government’s current response, as cases surged past 103,000, on Sunday, following a record 5,032 new cases. 

“We, the PCP, along with the other medical groups, never called for a revolution. We made an urgent call, because there is a need to immediately control the surge in the number of cases in the previous month,” Panaligan told Rappler. 

Despite his lashing out, Duterte announced he was again placing Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, and Bulacan under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from August 4 to 18.

The capital region was supposed to remain under general community quarantine from August 1 to 15.

'Do no harm'

In a “letter of clarification” on Monday morning, Panaligan, on behalf of the PCP, thanked Duterte for the quick response, saying the additional help promised by the government will aid frontliners in their work and help ensure care to coronavirus patients. 

Panaligan, however, said medical workers were “taken aback and surprised” at Duterte’s outburst aimed against them. 

“Sadly, we were taken aback and surprised when you highlighted in your address to the nation last night that we are indispensable but not irreplaceable so we beg your indulgence and allow us to rectify this impression…. there was never a call for a revolt, nor was there any threat of leaving patients on their own since our oath instructs us to do no harm to anyone who needs our help,” he said. 

Panaligan apologized for the way Duterte took their message “in a negative light,” saying it was not the medical societies’ intention for their call to “humiliate” the Duterte administration. 

“The call was for the DOH and IATF to provide HCWs (healthcare workers) a fighting chance in the war against COVID and prevent unnecessary fatalities – NOTHING more,” he added. 

Cooperate, strengthen response

The doctors thanked Duterte for accepting their plea, and called on the government to focus on collaborating with them to draw up an effective plan to combat the spread of the virus. 

“We call for solidarity, as we need to have a consolidated and comprehensive program to combat COVID-19,” Panaligan said. 

“We are thankful that our President listened, as all of us must realize that the pandemic is a complex problem. It cannot be solved by just a few people, particularly the LGUs, which have scattered ways of case detection and implementing the effective control measures, more so with the health care sector, particularly the frontliners, which can be considered the last line of defense,” he added. 

In a statement on Sunday, hours before Duterte announced a reversion to stricter measures, another medical frontliners’ group backed the medical societies’ call.

However, the “Second Opinion” group they didn’t agree with the police- and military-led quarantine that the President tended to favor. They called instead a “medical quarantine,” led by medical professionals “with clear health goals and outcomes.”

“Doctors and healthcare workers must reclaim quarantine for what it should be: a public health measure aimed at saving lives by stopping the spread of disease. We must reject the distorted forms of “community quarantine” being imposed on us, as these are devoid of scientific sense and health purpose, and serve only to oppress our people,” they said.

Santiago, meanwhile, urged the Duterte government to work with the medical community who likewise have solutions to offer in responding to the pandemic. 

“This is really the time for us to replan or redo our strategies and come up with a comprehensive plan of action,” he said, adding the medical community was always ready to help the government's response to the pandemic.

Ang Pilipinong manggagamot ay makabayan at makadiyos, at mapaglingkod din po sa bayan,” Santiago said during a press briefing in Malacañang.

(We Filipino medical workers are patriotic, God-fearing, and in service of the country.) – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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