Former Philippine Leader Joseph Estrada Battling COVID-19

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Former Philippine Leader Joseph Estrada Battling COVID-19 Former Philippine presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada talk during the change of command ceremony for the new Armed Forces chief at a military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Dec. 7, 2016.

Former Philippine leader Joseph Estrada, who was ousted by a church-backed revolt over corruption, was placed on a ventilator at a hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, his family said Wednesday. 

The 83-year-old ex-president and movie star, who won the office by a landslide in 1998 on the back of a populist platform - only to be removed from power three years later - was rushed to a hospital last week and has since been intubated, his family said. In a Facebook statement on Wednesday, family members said they are praying that no new complications set in.

“His kidney function is improving and his requirement for oxygen support is also slowly getting better. His other vital organs are functioning well,” the statement said.

“We were informed by his physicians that the inflammatory markers are on a downward trend for which we are thankful and hopefully this signals that his immune system is responding well.”

Also on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte canceled his weekly address as COVID-19 cases among members of his security detail increased. A day earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and abruptly canceled a news conference on the South China Sea. 

Estrada’s son, former Sen. J.V. Ejercito, issued a post on Twitter appealing for privacy.

“Can’t believe while we are monitoring my dad who is currently fighting for his life that there are a very handful of haters still wishing bad things or sowing hate,” he said, without elaborating or naming the hospital.

Estrada parlayed his popularity as an action film star to a career in politics even though his six-year term as president was cut short. An impeachment trial, which ran from December 2000 to January 2001, ended after the Senate dominated by Estrada’s allies voted to keep out a key piece of evidence against him.

He consistently denied the charges against him, triggering protests that forced him to leave the presidential palace in 2001. Authorities later arrested and charged him with graft. 

In 2007, a court convicted Estrada of plunder, but he was pardoned by his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. After losing the race for president in 2010, he was elected mayor of Manila, a post he held from 2013 to 2019.

Duterte cancels appearance 

Duterte, meanwhile, canceled his weekly public appearance “in light of the rising number of COVID-19 cases,” spokesman Harry Roque said. 

“The physical safety of the president remains our utmost concern,” Roque said, adding that an address would entail a complement of support staff. “We also take due consideration of their well-being.” 

In a statement on state television, Presidential Security Group chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante reported 45 active COVID-19 cases among members the group, adding those infected were not in close contact with Duterte.

“We will minimize all possible exposure that may jeopardize our president’s safety,” he said.

In 2018, Duterte announced that he had undergone a colonoscopy. In addition, he said his doctors notified him that he had Barrett’s esophagus, a condition marked by an abnormality in the lining of the lower esophagus. Duterte also suffers from Buerger’s disease, which leads to pain caused by blood vessels constricting in the arms and legs.

Workers load boxes of Sinovac vaccine into a refrigerated van at the Laguindingan Airport in the southern Philippine city of Cagayan de Oro, April 7, 2021. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]

The number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines has been growing in recent days, leaving many health care facilities overwhelmed. Over the past two days, as many as 624 people have died from the coronavirus while nearly 63,000 infections have been logged since Friday, the health department said. 

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) spoke out about the nation’s health care capacity. 

“We are concerned about the situation in the Philippines,” Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the regional director for the Western Pacific of WHO, said in an online forum. “We are concerned because the surge is really continuing and moving the so-called red line – the number of cases (that) exceed the capacity of health care.” 

Lockdown violations  

In an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the government has placed Metro Manila and nearby provinces under lockdown until April 11, meaning night-time curfews have been imposed for about 24 million people.

Filipinos, particularly in impoverished areas in suburbs around Manila, have been violating the lockdown rules in search of food. 

The treatment of one man, Darren Peñaredondo, 28, sparked social media outrage after he allegedly was forced by police last week to do hundreds of squats over a curfew violation. His family alleges the punishment contributed to his death the following day. 

His family said Peñaredondo, of General Trias, a city south of Manila, set out to buy drinking water when police stopped him. 

Officers took Peñaredondo to a police station and allegedly forced him and other detainees to do 100 “pumping” exercises or squats before forcing them to repeat the exercises.

Since then, a video showing Peñaredondo failing to go up three steps on a ladder after returning home has gone viral on social media.

On Wednesday, national police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana confirmed that two officers and the town police chief had been sacked, adding an investigation has been ordered.

The move was to “assure that the PNP does not tolerate any act” that is harmful to the best interest of our people, Usana said in a statement. 

The incident was not the first time that quarantine violators allegedly suffered harsh treatment. Last year, men were placed in dog cages and children were stuffed in coffins for violating COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the government, according to rights groups.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has denounced the government’s punitive measures to address the pandemic.

“Locking up people for violating emergency measures such as curfews and quarantine rules may actually increase disease transmission if people are placed in close proximity to one another in detention facilities,” HRW said in an April 2020 news release on its website.

Marielle Lucenio and Basilio Sepe in Manila, contributed to this report.


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