President Rodrigo Duterte in his late night address said that healthcare workers who lost their lives due to the novel coronavirus disease were fortunate to die for the country.
The chief executive delivered his first speech almost a week after signing the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” into law.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo initially announced that Duterte would address the nation “tentatively” at 4 p.m. on Monday but his taped address was only aired on television, social media and on video-streaming platforms nearly 12 midnight on the same day.
In his latest nation address, Duterte expressed his gratitude to doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals in the frontlines of the battle against the pandemic.
While acknowledging health workers who passed away due to COVID-19, he said dying for the nation is an “honor.”
“May mga doktor na, mga nurses, attendants, namatay. Sila ‘yung nasawi ang buhay para lang makatulong sa kapwa. Napakaswerte nila. Namatay sila para sa bayan. Iyon ang dapat ang rason na bakit tayo mamatay,” Duterte said.
“Huwag tayong mamatay sa ibang rason, nasagasaan ka lang at wala ka namang ginawa. It would be an honor to die for your country, I assure you,” he added.
His remark on health workers’ death came weeks after a nation address where he failed to acknowledge healthcare workers. This address was also when he first placed Metro Manila under a community quarantine on March 12 because of the threat of COVID-19.
The deaths could have been prevented
Duterte’s recent remark might have appeared to be a tribute to the unsung health worker heroes but some Filipinos perceived it as a form of romanticization instead.
“I think nakalimutan niya ang tunay na function ng medical frontliners and that is to heal, to nurture, to save lives. They went to work to save lives, not to lose theirs,” a Twitter user said.
Another Filipino shared that it is the government’s responsibility to protect the healthcare workers in light of a public health emergency.
“Stop romanticizing the deaths of our front-liners! It should have been your responsibility to protect them from getting infected from the virus, by providing the PPEs (personal protective equipment) and other medical supplies, while they are working hard to save our fellowmen,” he wrote.
“Iba ang namatay dahil sa tawag ng trabaho at kabayanihan kesa sa namatay dahil sa kapabayaan ng gobyerno,” the online user added.
A medical frontliner at the Philippine General Hospital similarly expressed his opinion about Duterte’s remark, claiming that the deaths could’ve been “prevented” or “lessened” if his administration “had acted sooner” about mitigating the spread of the virus before.
PGH was assigned by the Department of Health as one of the COVID-19 referral centers in the National Capital Region despite the University of the Philippines-Manila’s clamor for protective equipment and medical supply donation for the hospital.
PGH calls for donations… pic.twitter.com/cXRxGsBitS
— UP MANILA (Official) (@UPManilaOnline) March 22, 2020
Meanwhile, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros also attributed the lack of protective medical gear and limited access to COVID-19 testing as factors to the frontliners’ deaths.
“Hindi po ‘swerte’ ang mga health workers na namatay dahil sa COVID-19. Our health workers should not have been dying in the first place if they had been given ample PPEs & access to testing!” she tweeted.
The Philippine Medical Association reported that at least 12 Filipino doctors have already lost their lives amid the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them were considered top doctors in their fields of specialization and in their own communities.
Duterte only was able to acknowledge the threat of COVID-19 in the first week of February, several days after the country recorded its first confirmed case of the virus.
The Duterte administration was also earlier reluctant to issue a temporary travel ban on China—the country where the pandemic came from—due to concerns about the Philippines’ supposed diplomatic relations with the Asian giant.
When Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed the country’s first case of COVID-19 late January, Duterte around that time had his eyes set on prohibiting Cabinet members from traveling to the United States due to Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa’s visa cancellation.
As the country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases increases, different healthcare facilities got overwhelmed by the surge in patients and declared they have already reached full capacity.
Concerns have also been raised about the lack of protective gear and medical supplies which increase the risk of healthcare workers getting exposed and infected by the virus.
Those who are exposed to COVID-19 patients are required to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine at home, further reducing the number of medical attendants on hospitals.
New protective gear, medical equipment for health workers
Through the new anti-COVID law passed, the government plans to utilize a hefty budget for frontline health workers.
In the same latest nation address, Duterte said the government is now procuring medical supplies, devices and personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 frontliners.
He cited that it is acquiring around 1 million medical protective items with the help of the private sector.
Duterte added that the government is “ramping up our capacity to test more broadly to take a fuller and more accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.”
He also said that they would “build, operate and accredit more medical facilities and laboratories in the coming weeks.”