What we know so far: PH 'National Action Plan' on the coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Nearly 3 months since the novel coronavirus crisis broke out in early January, the Philippines finally announced it would implement a "National Action Plan" (NAP) to manage the spread of the virulent disease in the country. 

President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned the latest development in a televised message to Filipinos on Tuesday night, March 24, saying the plan would help to strengthen efforts of the Department of Health.  

Duterte did not give details about what the plan might look like, except to say that the Department of National Defense and Department of the Interior and Local Government would take the lead in “ramping up” its implementation. 

Here’s what we know about the Philippines’ "National Action Plan" so far.  

The creation of the National Action Plan is based on Resolution No. 15 of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), composed of key officials involved in the government’s response to the pandemic.  

In the resolution, the IATF cited Duterte’s earlier declaration of a state of public health emergency, the current month-long lockdown on the island group of Luzon, and the activation of Code Red Sublevel 2, the maximum alert level for the coronavirus. 

According to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, an Executive Order or similar issuances may be needed depending on the specific contents of the NAP which have yet to be released.

Guevarra earlier said the NAP will be the government’s "overall national strategy to deal with the COVID-19 problem and its aftermath." 

In line with this, Guevarra added that the recently signed Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which grants Duterte 30 special powers will allow the NAP to be implemented "in the most expeditious manner."

Duterte had likewise earlier declared a state of calamity in the Philippines due to the coronavirus crisis. As of Thursday evening, March 26, the Philippines recorded at least 707 cases, mostly in Luzon. The confirmed cases include 45 deaths and 28 recoveries.  

PRESIDENT'S TRUSTED. President Rodrigo Duterte bows his head in prayer prior to the start of the Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police Command Conference at Malacau00f1ang Palace on March 3, 2020. Malacau00f1ang photo

PRESIDENT'S TRUSTED. President Rodrigo Duterte bows his head in prayer prior to the start of the Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police Command Conference at Malacau00f1ang Palace on March 3, 2020.

Malacau00f1ang photo

The top 3 officials of the group in charge of carrying out the NAP are Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.  

Lorenzana will chair the group leading the implementation of the NAP and will serve as the head of the National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19 command center.  

Año, who is second in line, will sit as vice-chair. Año had largely been overseeing the implementation of the Luzon lockdown and other community quarantines declared by local government units in the Visayas and Mindanao. 

Galvez, third in line,had also been named as the "chief implementer" of the NAP, who will aid in ensuring the NAP is "fully implemented." 

As chief implementer, Galvez will lead the National Incident Command (NIC), which is in charge of day-to-day concerns and operations. 

Galvez said the NIC will focus on the “operational and tactical implementation” of the IATF’s policies and will monitor and synchronize the daily activities of all agencies involved in responding to the outbreak. 

Año was originally designated chief of the NTF’s National Incident Command, but the post was reassigned to Galvez Friday night, March 27. 

Malacañang did not provide a reason for the reassignment.

Año said on Thursday, March 26, he was going on self-quarantine after having been in the same room as ACT-CIS Representative Eric Go Yap, who was mistakenly told he was positive for the coronavirus. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine took back Yap’s positive diagnosis Friday afternoon, saying it was a clerical error.

Lorenzana’s leadership signals the military’s heightened role in addressing the coronavirus crisis, as he also leads the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the government’s main agency tasked with responding to calamities.   

Duterte’s decision to have Lorenzana, along with Año, and Galvez to lead the NAP draws back to his preference for appointing the military to handle the country’s pressing problems. Lorenzana, Año, and Galvez are retired military generals. 

Duterte had earlier said he would tap the military to deal with the outbreak to "instill order" if the outbreak turned into a pandemic.

The NAP’s NTF COVID-19 will operate alongside the IATF, which is headed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

The IATF will become the policy-making body on measures to address the coronavirus outbreak, while the NTF COVID-19 will be in charge of carrying out its recommendations. 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Wednesday, March 25, that this will become the new setup to "lessen the burden" on the IATF and streamline operations to address the pandemic.  

On Friday night, March 27, Nograles announced a separate IATF technical working group will also be created to draft plans to to rebuild business confidence and resume a "new normal state" of economic activities when possible. 

The technical working group will be chaired by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), with the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), DOH, Department of Education, and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency as members. 

NEDA may also propose the inclusion of more agencies, subject to the approval of the IATF. 

FRONTLINE. A shuttle bus for health workers waits for passengers outside the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila on March 18, 2020. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

FRONTLINE. A shuttle bus for health workers waits for passengers outside the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila on March 18, 2020.

Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

The proposed NAP approved "in principle" so far includes only general provisions. No specific details were provided yet on what the plan’s specific strategy is to arrest the rise in coronavirus cases. 

DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya earlier said in a Laging Handa briefing on Wednesday, March 25, that the agency was still waiting for detailed guidelines from Malacañang.

In general, the NAP allows the group to adopt measures that will provide "clear, accurate, and timely" information to support the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

This will be done by creating a platform where regular reports and coronavirus-related information can be accessed by the public.  

The NAP will also include measures focused on controlling the spread of the coronavirus by detecting, identifying, and isolating coronavirus-positive patients. The plan will include details to ensure that personnel, finances, and logistics needed to deal with the outbreak can be sustained. 

The plan is also expected to include the government’s measures to cushion the impact of the outbreak on the social, economic, and personal security of Filipinos.  

Aside from this, Guevarra said the plan may provide “the broad, long-term strategy for combating and containing all emerging infectious diseases” in the Philippines. 

It may also contain strategies to strengthen the country’s health system, deliver “social amelioration” packages, and increase economic activity when the outbreak wanes. 

The NAP will use the NDRRMC’s existing structure for responding to disasters. Here, the NDRRMC will identify agencies belonging to units that will comprise the NTF COVID-19. 

The proposed structure of the NTF COVID-19 so far includes the following units:

Task group on response operations

Task group on resource management and logistics

Task group on strategic communications 

Meanwhile, agency heads in each cluster are ordered to report directly to the IATF

The focus on what is to be done and provided isn't drastically different from what the government is already providing, though the proposed structure seeks to organize this is in a more efficient manner.

The plan may also later become the country’s blueprint for addressing future outbreaks and pandemics. – 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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