By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Health advocates have asked the Supreme Court to direct concerned government officials to conduct proactive and efficient mass testing amid the steady increase of COVID-19 cases in the country.
In a 74-page plea, health advocates sought for the issuance of a writ of mandamus, a court order that compels government official to “properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.”
One of the petitioners, former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, said, “We add our voices to this petition because our calls for free mass testing have so far been unheeded by the government.”
Petitioners invoked the Supreme Court’s power to recognize primordial and self-executiionary right in order to chart an agreeable new normal.
“They are asserting their right to the highest attainable standard of health in the hope of seeking protection not only for their lives, but also for their cherished freedoms,” the petitioners said.
Free and efficient mass testing
Respondents, mostly officers of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging and Infectious Diseases, are asked to conduct mass testing in a proactive and efficient matter. Mass testing, according to the petitioners, should be made free and accessible to all suspect cases, contacts of probable and confirmed cases, frontline healthworkers, and high-risk and vulnerable communities.
This, health advocates said, will abolish the prioritization scheme that is currently being implemented by the Department of Health.
The plea also calls for the ramping up of contact tracing and rapid containment, and the improving of laboratory testing capacity.
“The omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systematic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood, work, education, and access to justice,” the petition read.
The high court is also urged to direct concerned government agencies to provide accurate, timely, and complete information on the country’s COVID-19 sitation.
Petitioners found it worrisome that incomplete, inaccurate, and confusing data serve as basis for the government’s policies in curbing the dreaded spread of virus.
“These irregulartieis lessen the confidence of the public in the ability of the DOH (and government in general) to deal with the pandemic with transparency and integrity,” the petition read, adding that the “quality of the results depends on the quality of the data provided.”
As of this writing, the health department has daily reports on so-called “fresh cases” and “late cases,” which petitioners found to be perplexing.
“The Philippines is the only country that reports its confirmed cases this way. The grouping serves no purpose other than downplay the increase in number of cases,” the petitioners said.
As of June 30, 2020, the https://covid19stats.ph/ reported that there are 9,382 samples in the backlog and a testing capacity of over 14,000 a day for the past seven days.
Taguiwalo lamented that the Philippine government has been heavily relying on a militarist response.
“It enforced punitive measures to compel the population to abide by protocols. Often this resulted in abuses, unnecessary restrictions and undue curtailment of civil liberties,” she said.
Taguiwalo was joined by fellow health advocates, progressive leaders, and those affected by the pandemic in the filing of the motion before the Supreme Court. They were assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers – National Capital Region.
Respondents, on the other hand, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Cabinet secretary Karlo Norgrales, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, and Chief Implementer of the National Action Plan Against COVID19 Carlito Galvez Jr.