Philippine President Orders Police, Military to Help Hospitals Reeling from COVID-19

Marielle Lucenio and Jojo Riñoza
Manila
2021-09-23
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Philippine President Orders Police, Military to Help Hospitals Reeling from COVID-19 A woman walks outside a hospital in Manila, March 15, 2021.
[Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered police and military forces to assist hospitals overwhelmed by a steady stream of COVID-19 patients in recent months.  

During a late-night cabinet meeting Wednesday, Duterte also appealed to opposition politicians, who have accused the government of corruption related to equipment purchases during the pandemic, to set aside differences so his administration could solve the health crisis straining hospitals in the Philippine capital.

While the Senate continues with its corruption investigation, Duterte said, “our healthcare workers are getting sick, our hospitals are being filled to the brim, and more and more people are getting sick and dying from COVID-19.”

“We have a dearth of supply of the human resource,” Duterte said. “That’s why I am ordering the medical corps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police… please place your human resources ready on deck because that’s who I can quickly rely on.” 

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has one of the highest rates of infection and fatality stemming from the coronavirus disease, with more than 2.4 million cases and more than 37,000 deaths recorded to date. On Thursday, the health department said 177 new deaths were recorded overnight, along with 17,411 new cases.

A wave of infections driven by the very contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has hit the country hard in recent months, particularly in Metro Manila.

Many of the most prominent hospitals in the crowded Philippine capital region are “running at full capacity,” Duterte said, naming at least seven of the biggest hospitals that had recently reported being over capacity. 

“Their health workers are now in quarantine, so they cannot accept COVID admissions anymore.”

Some 400 staff at five of the biggest hospitals have contracted the disease while at work, Duterte said, citing a report that his office had received about the public health crisis.

The country, in the meantime, has received some 66 million vaccine doses, he also said. 

But the country is lagging far behind its target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of its nearly 110 million people by year’s end. According to the Department of Health, some 18.8 million Filipinos have received both doses of coronavirus vaccine. 

20082021_ICU-2 1.jpeg
COVID-19 patients are seen at a Catholic chapel converted into an emergency wing for the Quezon City General Hospital, in Quezon City, Philippines, Aug 20, 2021. [Dante Diosina Jr./BenarNews]

A day earlier, Duterte had slammed rich countries for creating “a man-made drought of vaccines ravaging poor countries.” 

“Rich countries hoard lifesaving vaccines while poor nations wait for trickles. They now talk of booster shots, while developing countries consider half-doses just to get by,” Duterte said in a pre-recorded address to the United Nations General Assembly. 

“The plain fact is, this pandemic will not end unless the virus is defeated everywhere. Vaccines are key to achieving this,” Duterte said. 

Military already being deployed

The armed forces have already started dispatching nurses to at least one Manila hospital, and more will likely be sent, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said during the cabinet meeting.

He said the military’s surgeon-general would immediately dispatch additional nurses to St. Luke’s, one of Manila’s more prominent hospitals, which had shut one of its wings due to the surge in COVID-19 patients. 

"We are continuously looking for health workers from our services in the provinces, from the army, navy, air force. In the following days, we would deploy more nurses to hospitals in Manila,” Lorenzana said.

The disease has also hit military personnel, and it is a matter of prioritizing personnel to the more essential deployments, armed forces spokesman Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“We, too, have some affected (personnel), but we will allocate nurses and health workers the soonest,” Zagala told BenarNews on Thursday.

The president, who is known for his brash comments, devoted a considerable chunk of his remarks on Wednesday evening to attacking opposition senators investigating alleged corruption linked to the health department's COVID-19 program.

Duterte accused his opponents of unnecessarily bothering his officials from adequately doing their jobs amid a pandemic.

The corruption allegations blew up earlier this month after the Commission on Audit (COA), an influential independent constitutional body that scrutinizes government expenditures, flagged alleged financial discrepancies in the handling of public funds meant to address the health crisis.

Following the COA release, the Senate launched an investigation into billions of pesos spent on personal protective equipment, COVID-19 test kits, and other medical supplies from private contractors.  

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